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Obamacare tech guru says website capacity to double

Roberta Rampton and Sharon Begley
Friday, 22 Nov 2013 | 3:55 PM ET

(Adds details)

WASHINGTON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - HealthCare.gov, the ailing website handling health insurance sales under President Barack Obama's healthcare law, will soon be able to handle 50,000 simultaneous users, the top official charged with making it work said Friday.

Jeffrey Zients, the Obama administration's HealthCare.gov troubleshooter, said that figure is the capacity the site's architects originally intended.

The system currently can handle 25,000 users at once, up from fewer than 1,000 in its early days.

HealthCare.gov will be able to handle 800,000 people per day by the end of November, Zients said, largely because of the more than 300 software and other fixes that technology teams have made to the site in the past seven weeks.

The increase in capacity also will come from a doubling of the system's hardware capacity, planned for this weekend, he said.

By going through the "punch list" of needed fixes to the information technology (IT) underlying the online insurance marketplace, Zients said, computer experts had improved the site's response time to less than one second, from the original eight seconds, and reduced the error rate to 0.75 percent from 6 percent a few weeks ago.

"We are seeing marked improvements," he said. "We've made measurable progress in getting the system to function smoothly for the vast majority of users."

If more than 50,000 would-be users flood the system, it will send them emails suggesting better times to try shopping for and signing up for insurance.

The administration also is changing some deadlines on account of the troubles the site has encountered.

Americans hoping to sign up for health insurance under Obama's healthcare reform law will have an additional eight days to do so for coverage to begin Jan. 1, 2014, officials said on Friday.

The decision to move the deadline to Dec. 23 from Dec. 15 is an acknowledgement that the online portal for enrollment, HealthCare.gov, has been plagued with problems since it opened on Oct. 1.

Officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said they had no plans to extend the ultimate deadline of March 31, 2014, the date when people without insurance must enroll in a plan or face a tax penalty.

The decision to hold firm on that date reflects, in part, optimism that the website will continue to improve.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland, Caroline Humer, Sharon Begley, Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Fred Barbash and Bill Trott)