WASHINGTON — The government announced Monday it added yet more capacity and made more fixes, including hardware updates, to HealthCare.gov over the weekend, working toward its goal of a "smoothly operating" website by a self-imposed Saturday deadline.
"The system will not work perfectly on Dec. 1, but it will operate much better than it did in October," said Julie Bataille, the director of the office of communications at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Monday morning, there was an unscheduled outage for an hour, which meant people could not enroll or apply for eligibility at the site, but Bataille said the issue was quickly addressed and the system is working properly now.
"We have a lot of work to do this week and moving forward," she said, adding that people are already moving through the site much more smoothly than even a week ago. "We believe we have made progress."
The news comes just as a new study shows that only 30% of those who have applied for the exchanges are eligible for federal subsidies — far less than the 84% of expected enrollees who will be eligible for assistance.
That means there could be a big boon coming for HealthCare.gov, according to the Avalere Health study.
"This suggest that there's a timing issue here and that you can't be too quick to judge enrollment," said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health. "You have a lot of people who have heavily subsidized benefits who haven't signed up yet."
That may be because those people assume there will be a high cost associated with it, even though, in many instances, that won't be the case, Mendelson said.
"Some of them won't have to pay anything for it," he said. "I think when enrollment begins to happen, there will be a lot of people, millions of people, who will be delighted to see their costs are very low."
The study found that, as of Nov. 12, 106,000 people had selected insurance plans through the federal exchange, but 1.1 million people had applied — without selecting a plan — and of those, only 30% were eligible for subsidies because they fell below 400% of the federal poverty level. Avalere projected that 84% of the final applicants will be eligible for subsidies.
In the 15 state-run exchanges, including Washington, D.C., only 23% of applicants fell below 400% of the federal poverty level. Avalere projects that 88% of those who ultimately sign up for state-run exchanges will be eligible for subsidies.
"We see this every time a new benefit is fielded, both in the commercial markets as well as the government markets," Mendelson said. "People tend to wait until a week or two before they're supposed to sign up, and sometimes until the day before. I think putting it off is human nature."
Bataille said she will announce enrollment numbers next month, and that experts would continue to work through the weekend to make sure the website could handle any influxes in volume after Thanksgiving and to "get it into the shape we want it to be in for next week." However, the call center will be closed Thanksgiving Day.
Health and Human Services and White House officials have said the site will be working smoothly for "the majority of users" by Nov. 30. But Bataille said that doesn't mean there will be a major announcement this weekend about big advances. Instead, they have been making fixes and adding capacity for the past month. After Nov. 30, HHS will continue to make improvements, just as Medicare continues to do every year with its enrollment site.
To that end, Friday HHS announced that the site would be able to handle 50,000 people at once, as originally planned, by Nov. 30. That means 800,000 people will be able to access the site every day, she said.
When the site first launched Oct. 1, it could take as long as eight seconds for a page to load. Now, it takes less than one second. The error rate stood at 6% early in the site's launch, but it is now at .75%.