Uh oh: HHS still discovering new bugs in ObamaCare website as known ones are fixed

A “tech surge” update via Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog. Spoiler: Sebelius’s “important announcement” tomorrow isn’t going to be “we fixed it.”

Today’s “Operational Update on the Health Insurance Marketplace” was not especially good news: As capacity problems at the start of HealthCare.gov get fixed, tech workers are finding new capacity problems later in the application process — ones that, up until now, they didn’t know about.

“Essentially what is happening is people are going through the entire process,” Medicare spokeswoman Julie Bataille, who runs the daily call, told reporters. “As we have fixed certain pieces of functionality, like the account creation process, we’re seeing volume go further down the application. We’re identifying new issues that we need to be in a position to troubleshoot.”

That means that, as the HealthCare.gov team ticks items off its “punch list,” it’s also adding new ones that need to be addressed.

Could be that I’m misunderstanding but that makes it sound like they focused on fixing the account creation process, a.k.a. the front end of the site, before they’ve fixed the back-end part that relays applicants’ information to insurers. Bob Laszewski, the health industry expert who’s emerged as a lead critic of the site, told Klein in an interview a few weeks ago that it’d be disastrous to repair the front end before the “834 transactions” on the back end were repaired. Many of those 834s are garbled or incomplete; the only thing that’s making them manageable right now is the fact that there are so few of them trickling in due to website problems that insurers have the time and manpower to clean them up. The front-end problems are basically a dam holding back a reservoir of tainted/screwed-up information. Fix them first and the dam will break before the reservoir’s been decontaminated/debugged.

Maybe they have fixed the 834 process and are now systematically cleaning up the application system so that enrollments can begin en masse. If so, though, I haven’t heard a word of it — and that would be something that O-Care fans, Klein and company foremost among them, would want to tout as shining proof that the tech surge is making strides. Laszewski published a status update about Healthcare.gov a few days ago on his own blog based on what his industry sources are telling him and claimed that progress in fixing the 834 problem is “incremental and nowhere near enough to be able to go to high volume processing,” leaving his sources pessimistic that HHS can possibly get this done by December 1. But then, that’s sort of the point of today’s Wonkblog piece — because they’re discovering more errors as they clean others up, there’s no reason to think they’re making any meaningful progress. As one to-do item gets checked off, another gets written in. Makes me wonder how much longer Obama will leave Senate Democrats out there to twist in the wind before breaking the news that December 1 just isn’t happening.

Via the Right Scoop, here’s Laszewski telling Megyn Kelly last night that he expects 80 percent of the individual insurance market to receive cancellation notices.

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