November 01, 2013, 2:47 PM — Response times at the ailing HealthCare.gov have improved significantly in recent days as a technology team tries to fix the problems with the U.S. government's health-insurance shopping website, officials said.
Page response times in the first days after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the site Oct. 1 were around eight seconds, an "unacceptable" performance when fast-loading website response times are measured in milliseconds, said Jeffrey Zients, a former acting director at the White House Office of Management and Budget overseeing fixes to the site.
The current page response times are now less than one second -- or "1,000 milliseconds," as Zients described it -- but the team working on that issue still has a "lot to do there," he said during a press briefing Friday.
The tech team working on HealthCare.gov is on track to meet an HHS goal of having the site work smoothly for most users by the end of November, Zients said. The team had a "frustrating" setback this week with hours of outages last weekend and Wednesday night due to a hardware problem at hosting provide Verizon Communications, he said.
The HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS] has brought in "dozens" of outside tech workers, including employees of other agencies and companies such as Google, Oracle and Red Hat, a CMS spokeswoman said this week.
The team has cleared "dozens" of items from a so-called punch list of priority fixes this week, said Julie Bataille, director of communications for CMS.
The workers fixing the website are divided up into four general groups, Zients said: an application and software team largely working on making the website faster; an infrastructure and hardware team focused on adding capacity and redundancy; a monitoring and trouble-shooting team tracking system performance; and a security team.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius faced questions about site security during a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, questioned if the website team was conducting end-to-end security tests as it applies fixes to the site.
Asked Friday about security, Zients said the site has always had a focus on security. "The security team is continuously working to ensure rigorous protections of the system and its data," he said.
As of a week ago, about 700,000 people have applied for insurance coverage through HealthCare.gov or state-run insurance marketplaces, according to CMS. The agency has not yet released numbers of successful applications.