WASHINGTON - It doesn't rival Amazon and Travelocity, but President Obama's much-maligned health insurance website finally seems to be working reasonably well most of the time. Still, consumers are well-advised to verify, not just trust.
More than 3.7 million people visited HealthCare.gov last week - and it didn't crash, administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille deadpanned Friday on a call with reporters.
Officials say 29,000 people enrolled the first two days of the week, exceeding total signups for the 36 states served by the federal site during October, the month of its problem-plagued launch.
Online Spanish-language signups, delayed because of initial problems, were finally going live over the weekend in a "soft launch" to tease out any lurking glitches. A promotional campaign in Spanish will follow.
Overall, work has shifted from zapping technical gremlins that frustrated consumers to cleaning up garbled enrollment files that the system has been delivering to insurers.
"The new process put in place this week is making a difference," acknowledged Karen Ignagni, head of the largest industry group, America's Health Insurance Plans. "The enrollment files are getting better, but there is more work to be done to ensure consumers are covered."
While not calling it an "error rate," Bataille says mistakes on those files are now affecting one in 10 transactions with insurers, down from an estimated 25 percent. She still recommends that consumers verify enrollment with their insurer, and - importantly - pay their first month's premium by Dec. 31.
The Web is now the gateway to subsidized private health insurance for people who don't have job-based coverage. Along with the federal site, 14 states and the District of Columbia are running their own.
As of Friday morning, the number of states where consumers are experiencing unacceptably long wait times had been cut to 9, down from 26 states in late October.
Many consumers were puzzled and frustrated when the federal website went live because it would not let them browse health plans without first setting up an account.On Monday, HHS announced the deployment of a window-shopping function that lets prospective customers see plans and prices in their area, including previously unavailable details such as deductibles and cost-sharing, as well as provider networks.
The site can now handle 50,000 simultaneous users. Each visitor spends an average of 20 to 30 minutes on the site. In theory, the site will support more than 800,000 consumer visits a day.
The big spikes in traffic are still to come. Expect that to happen after the middle of this month, since Dec. 23 is the last day that people can apply for coverage that will take effect Jan. 1.