An Obamacare marketing campaign is being put on hold because the White House fears that a rush of customers to the hobbled HealthCare.gov website could crash the system.
"Our concern is that we want to make sure that people have the right expectation going into this," Jennifer Palmieri, White House communications director, told The New York Times
"Early October was a frustrating experience for users," Palmieri said. "We are preparing for the outcome that we have as many or more visitors as we had on Oct. 1."
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About 4.7 million people visited HealthCare.gov that first day, Obama administration officials told The Times.
Luke Chung, president of Virginia-based software developer FMS Inc., told CNN
that the administration's prediction that HealthCare.gov would work at 80 percent capacity was an impractical threshold in the software world.
"I don't know how to build something that's only 80 percent complete," Chung told CNN. "I don't even understand how that works."
According to the report, administration officials are encouraging Americans to use the site but are working to not create too much demand. HealthCare.gov is greatly improved, officials said, but they cautioned that it might not work well for everyone.
"We are definitely on track to have a significantly different user experience by the end of the month," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told state and local elected officials in a conference call on Tuesday, The Times reported.
Sebelius was seeking to assure the officials that the administration would meet its Saturday deadline for having HealthCare.gov running smoothly.
The report strikes another blow to beleaguered HealthCare.gov, the main Obamacare website that serves 36 states that do not have their own insurance exchanges.
The site has been shut down to address technology issues, and HealthCare.gov crashed last week during a visit by Sebelius
to a hospital in Miami.
In addition, Americans continue to have accessibility problems with the website.
The report also came on the same day the Obama administration announced a one-year delay for small businesses
to purchase healthcare plans via HealthCare.gov.
According to The Times, White House officials said the site could now handle about 50,000 users at one time, but that number could leap to as many as 250,000 this weekend because of a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for coverage that would begin on Jan. 1.
"The system will not work perfectly," Jeffrey Zients, who is now heading efforts to repair the website, told The Times last week. The site could handle 50,000 users, he said.
"To be clear, there will be times that volume on HealthCare.gov will exceed this capacity," Zients said.
Even Sebelius was vague about how many visitors HealthCare.gov might be able to handle on Saturday. She said in the conference call that there was not "a magic turn-on switch" that could be flipped to solve all of the website's problems, The Times reported.
Progress, however, has been gradual, and visitors can expect to find a better-operating site on Saturday, Sebelius said.
To ease pressure on HealthCare.gov, Americans can expect to find a "waiting room" for times when the site is operating slowly, The Times reported.
Visitors can ask the government to send an email telling them of a better time to use the site, and they then would go to the front of the line, according to The Times.
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