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Government officials say the HealthCare.gov site can handle a crush of visitors. / Lynne Sladky, AP

WASHINGTON - The ability of the HealthCare.gov website to keep operating despite a high number of visitors has heightened health officials' belief that the site will be ready to help customers meet the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll in insurance in order to be covered by Jan. 1.

By noon Monday, 165,000 people visited the site, where people can shop for and buy health insurance, while another 500,000 went to the site over the weekend, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"While we experience consistent traffic levels this weekend, the site remained stable," she said, adding that the staffs will be bolstered at call centers, chat lines and the website to meet the deadline.

However, administration officials made many of the same assurances leading up to Oct. 1, when the federal and state exchanges opened. Then the federal site could not handle the volume or connect interested customers with insurers. The site was plagued by outages, glitches and lost data, and the Obama administration had to recruit outside experts to fix the site.

Beyond the Dec. 23 deadline, uninsured Americans have until March 31 to have insurance and avoid paying a fee with their 2014 taxes for not having health insurance. The new marketplaces, which may all be reached from HealthCare.gov, allow people to compare the benefits and costs of health insurance plans as part of the Affordable Care Act.

After the troubled roll-out, Bataille said the site is "running smoothly" for the majority of people who visit, and that the verification process is working for 90% of people who attempt it. Others, she said, may have "complicated" family or income situations that require more help.

Over the weekend, she said engineers continued to upgrade the system, including changing the "window shopping" application. Now, people can enter their household size and incomes to get an insurance estimate that includes what their subsidy will be, she said. That will mean a "much more realistic price" - without having to enter any personal data. The upgraded application will also let people know if they are eligible for medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program.

The government has also emailed, called or sent mail to people who had problems the first month of the website launch, Bataille said. Those people also may now hit a "reset" button at the site if they'd like to start over.

Over the weekend, HHS announced that website problems with the information forms, or 834s, that go to insurers are now near 0%, so insurers are now receiving correct information about new customers.

"Since the beginning of December, missing 834s as a percentage of total enrollments has been close to zero," Bataille wrote in a blog. "These significant improvements are due to the technical fixes put in place by the end of November."

Also Monday, the state of New York released its latest enrollment numbers. As of Dec. 16, 95,196 have enrolled in private health plans. That's more than double the 45,513 New Yorkers who had enrolled in private insurance between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, records show.

Follow @KellySKennedy on Twitter.




Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: HHS vows it will be ready for Dec. 23 insurance deadline

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