World and Nation

Easier time in health marketplace is promised

WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials said Wednesday that consumers would have a much easier time buying health insurance in the federal marketplace this fall, and although they promised that would not crash, they provided few operational details to back up their confidence in the revamped website.

Andrew M. Slavitt, the No. 2 official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the government began “end-to-end testing” of the site this week with all insurance companies that wanted to sell health plans through the federal marketplace, or exchange.

Slavitt and Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of the federal exchange, said that 70 percent of consumers signing up for the first time would be able to use a shorter, simpler application that required them to click through 16 computer screens, down from 76 last fall.

In addition, they said, consumers will now be able to complete applications using smartphones.

The second round of open enrollment begins Nov. 15 and continues for three months, half the length of the first enrollment period.

In the first open season, 8 million people signed up for insurance. About 7.3 million have paid their premiums and are still enrolled, surpassing the goal set by President Barack Obama.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has declined to set a numerical goal for enrollment in the second enrollment period. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that enrollment will climb to a total of 13 million.

People who have already signed up under the Affordable Care Act will have coverage automatically renewed in the same or similar health plans if they take no action. But Counihan said that consumers could often get a better deal if they looked at other plans for sale on the exchange.

On March 31, the last day of the first open enrollment, reported record traffic, with 125,000 people using the site at one time. Slavitt said the redesigned website could handle “significantly more concurrent users,” but would not say how many.

Slavitt also said the government was hiring more call center employees to help consumers.

Slavitt, a former executive at UnitedHealth, one of the nation’s largest insurers, and Counihan, the former chief executive of the successful state-run exchange in Connecticut, came to work for the federal government in the past few months and vowed to do better than their predecessors.