By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Obama administration officials on Wednesday said an improved HealthCare.gov website should be able to break its own record for online traffic next month, when consumers begin using the site to enroll in private health insurance for 2015.
Andrew Slavitt, a top U.S. official working to implement the law known as Obamacare, said the goal for traffic capacity is "significantly more than on the highest peak day." That peak day was March 31, the last official day for 2014 enrollments, when the site handled more than 125,000 users at a time, for a total daily volume of 4.8 million visitors.
The goal suggests growing confidence among administration officials that the new three-month open enrollment period for 2015, which begins Nov. 15, will not see a repeat of last year's botched rollout, when HealthCare.gov crashed on launch and brought President Barack Obama's presidency and his signature domestic policy to the brink of political crisis.
An emergency rescue operation led by technology experts including Slavitt got HealthCare.gov operating smoothly enough to enroll 8 million people for 2014 coverage. Independent forecasts call for a 2015 enrollment of 13 million, including current policyholders who renew existing coverage and 5 million to 6 million new enrollees.
"We're in a very different spot than we were last year, when we were building from whole cloth. Now we've got a body of knowledge that we're continuing to build and learn against," Slavitt told reporters at a press briefing.
But he declined to rule out problems once enrollment resumes: "Where we're focused is on a successful consumer experience. And that's kind of where we're heads-down."
HealthCare.gov and the government's technological backbone for subsidized private insurance marketplaces in all 50 states began end-to-end testing on Tuesday, which officials described as a painstaking procedure involving hundreds of participants from government and the health insurance industry.
Slavitt said the testing, which will continue for 5-1/2 weeks, marks the fourth round of tests for the system.
The administration gave reporters a glimpse at its new, streamlined HealthCare.gov design, intended to ease the task of enrollment. The new 16-screen application, down from 76 screens in the 2014 enrollment, has been tested by 20,000 consumers who have been allowed to sign up for coverage since July because of special circumstances.
A new feature is a mobile function that will allow people to enroll through smart phones and other devices. Officials said such devices are popular among 70 percent of Latinos and 80 percent of young adults, two key target audiences.
Officials said consumers will be able to browse 2015 health plans, with their potentially higher premium rates, around Nov. 9, a week before open enrollment begins and days after the Nov. 4 congressional midterm elections.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)