Despite taking Healthcare.gov offline for hours a day to make technological fixes, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Wednesday the site continued to experience multiple slowdowns and displayed error messages to numerous visitors throughout the day.

During a media call CMS Spokeswoman Julie Bataille explained that the agency was working to determine the “root causes of [Wednesday’s] slowness.” However, she added these slowdowns are “natural occurrences” in large tech rollouts.

CMS says overnight during its 1-4 a.m. EST shutdown, it put in place updates to increase eligibility processing and streamline the user experience, including stopping users who are missing information from advancing through the enrollment process.

Bataille says CMS is working first and foremost to address performance and functionality of the exchange site — “the two key indicators of what users need.”

Separately, she provided a possible explanation on why CMS has yet to release enrollment data, explaining that her agency wants to provide reliable, accurate information, but technical problems are preventing that information from coming through. She reiterated, as President Barack Obama has said, that she expects overall enrollment since the Oct. 1 launch to be low.

Sebelius testifies

Also Wednesday, U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius returned to Capitol Hill to provide testimony to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. In that hearing, Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said implementation of the 2010 law that he helped write has been unacceptable.

He urged Sebelius to “meet, and I’d prefer you beat” an end-of-the-month deadline for repairing the insurance exchanges. Baucus said that it’s disappointing that Sebelius and others in the Obama administration “say they didn’t see the problems coming.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, questioned Sebelius on her promises that the site would be ready for launch.  “You assured us that the implementation was on track, that it was all going smoothly, and that the exchanges would be ready,” he said. “There is a long track record of broken promises and untruthful answers to both this committee and the American people.”

Sebelius, who runs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said workers have installed monitoring tools and are making “a couple of hundred functional fixes” to get the site — which is costing taxpayers about $630 million — fully operational by the end of November.

Humana’s expectation

Meanwhile, insurer Humana is anticipating some concession by the Obama administration, including a possible extension of the six-month open enrollment period beyond March, according to James Murray, chief operating officer for the Louisville, Ky.-based company.

“There’s a problem with the enrollment, and because of that, the likely enrollment that we’ll receive will be changed from what we thought,” Murray told investors on an earnings conference call. “We’re waiting for guidance from the government.”

The administration had a target of 800,000 Obamacare sign-ups for the first two months and the Congressional Budget Office has projected that 7 million people would enroll through 2014.

Sebelius said today the initial enrollment from October will be “very low,’” though she declined to provide specific figures, saying a full report will be released next week.

 

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