By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Monday announced a plan to help HealthCare.gov visitors cope with online glitches if traffic surges after the troubled website is working smoothly for most people this weekend as promised.
Warning that the federal healthcare website will still be plagued by delays and outages in the weeks to come, an administration official said people who log on to shop or apply for subsidized health coverage will join a new "queuing system" if traffic exceeds a benchmark of 800,000 visitors.
"Consumers may not immediately be able to complete the application. But they will be queued in order to ensure a smoother process," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency responsible for HealthCare.gov.
The faulty site at the center of the rocky Obamacare rollout crashed during its October 1 launch, when 2.8 million visitors flooded the site. Most received error messages or found themselves stuck waiting for pages to load.
But if volume becomes a problem this time, the new queuing system will enable consumers to see educational material while they wait or allow them to submit an email address where they can be notified later once the system is back up, according to the Bataille.
HealthCare.gov is an online portal to a new insurance marketplace that offers subsidized private health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans in 36 states. But its troubled rollout has been a major political problem for President Barack Obama and the healthcare law known as Obamacare, his signature domestic policy.
After weeks of emergency fixes, the administration has pledged to have the website working smoothly for 80 percent of visitors by November 30. But with less than a week to go before the deadline, the administration appears to be preparing the public for problems.
"It is likely that as we move forward, we'll find additional glitches and experience intermittent periods of suboptimal performance," Bataille told reporters after HealthCare.gov's application and enrollment software went down for an hour on Monday.
"The system will not work perfectly on December 1. But it will operate much better than it did in October," she said.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Fred Barbash and Cynthia Osterman)