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U.S. administration plans Obamacare website upgrade this weekend

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October
A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration hopes to upgrade the performance of its faltering HealthCare.gov website this weekend by adding new capacity just two weeks before a crucial deadline for having it running smoothly, a presidential adviser said on Friday.

"We will be bringing additional servers online, as well as additional database capacity and data storage. With these upgrades, we will significantly increase the system's capacity," President Barack Obama's website adviser Jeffrey Zients told reporters in a conference call.

HealthCare.gov, the administration's Obamacare web portal for offering subsidized private health coverage to uninsured Americans in 36 of the 50 states, has been at the center of a political firestorm over technical problems that overwhelmed its October 1 launch and have dogged the system ever since.

Zients, a respected crisis manager and long-time Obama ally, is overseeing an emergency effort to get the site operating smoothly for the vast majority of users by November 30.

That leaves only two weeks for the website to enroll well over a million people who could be waiting to sign up by a December 15 deadline for coverage that would begin January 1.

The work due to get under way over the weekend could prove to be an important test of the system's resilience as officials prepare for a potentially huge influx of visitors during the two-week December enrollment period. Analysts say that period could help make or break the healthcare law that is considered to be Obama's signature domestic policy achievement.

Some technical experts believe the Zients team faces an overwhelming challenge that is unlikely to satisfy critics of the law that mandates that most Americans at least be enrolled for health insurance by March 31 or pay a fine.

On Friday, Zients sounded less cautious than a week earlier, when he described the site as being "a long way from where it needs to be" with higher volumes of visitors exposing new problems.

He said round-the-clock efforts to correct HealthCare.gov's problems by hundreds of contractors have made "measurable" progress, allowing higher volumes of visitors to enter the site. A senior administration official told a congressional oversight panel this week that the system can now process nearly 17,000 registrations per hour.

The system continues to be slow during peak periods, despite improvements against system timeouts, errors and slow responses when volumes are lower, Zients said.

"We clearly need the system to perform reliably with fast response times and higher volumes. This is a key focus of our work now," he said.

The team has crossed more than 200 fixes off its "punch list" of technical issues and is targeting 50 additional improvements for the next week, Zients said.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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