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HealthCare.gov deploys new queuing feature on busy Monday

The website launches a new user queue after performance lags with about 35,000 users

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HealthCare.gov, the U.S. government's insurance-shopping website, had to deploy a user queuing feature Monday because of heavy traffic, just days after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the troubled site was working well for a majority of users.

HHS officials announced Sunday that the tech team working on the site had met its deadline of having HealthCare.gov function well for a majority of users, and the site was able to handle 50,000 concurrent users. But the site's team decided to launch the queuing feature about 10 a.m. Monday EST, with about 35,000 concurrent users, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Page response time for the site was about two seconds at the time the team launched the queuing system, Bataille said, when page response time has generally been below one second in recent weeks. Page error rates were around .9 percent at the time, when the error rate has been in the .75 range in recent weeks, she said.

The site's team launched the queuing feature "in order to manage demand and ensure a smooth user experience for users in the system," Bataille said. The decision to launch the queuing feature "was the team's determine in real time of what needed to occur in order to ensure the optimal user experience."

Bataille said she couldn't give an average wait time in the queue because it fluctuates with website use.

The queuing system, announced by CMS last month, is meant to give users educational information about insurance plans while they wait or send them email messages advising a better time to come back to the site.

Between midnight and noon Eastern Time, HealthCare.gov had gotten about 375,000 visitors, about double the traffic during a typical Monday during those hours, Bataille said. HHS officials said they expect the site to handle about 800,000 visitors a day after recent fixes.

HealthCare.gov Monday rolled out an improved window-shopping feature that gives users more detailed information about insurance plans they're considering, including what hospitals and doctors are in the plans' networks, Bataille said.

The tech team working the site has also found and fixed a bug that was causing incorrect customer information to be sent on the site's back end to insurers, Bataille said. The majority of the 834 EDI transmission errors should now be fixed, she said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.



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