The Trump administration will once again take Healthcare.gov offline each Sunday morning during this year’s open enrollment for a total of 60 hours of planned maintenance.
The schedule mimics last year’s planned downtime, which drew criticism from Affordable Care Act advocates and lawmakers who accused the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of using the downtime to prevent consumers from enrolling in exchange plans.
By the end of last year's open enrollment period, however, the agency ended up using just a portion of the planned downtime.
HHS officials notified insurance agents and brokers of the scheduled downtime during webinar on Tuesday. Healthcare.gov, which is used by 38 states, will be down for five of the six Sundays during this year’s open enrollment from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. beginning on Nov. 4.
The agency has also scheduled downtime in the early morning of Nov. 1, the first day of open enrollment, to make final preparations. There is no scheduled downtime for Dec. 9, the final Sunday of open enrollment.
Healthcare.gov enrollments dipped only slightly last year to 8.7 million, down from 8.8 million during the 2017 open enrollment period.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), scheduled maintenance windows are used to make updates and improvements to the system, which coordinates data exchange with the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.
“Similar to last year, we are sharing the maximum potential HealthCare.gov maintenance windows to allow agents, brokers, and assisters to plan in advance of Open Enrollment,” a CMS spokesperson told FierceHealthcare in a statement. “Regular scheduled maintenance will continue to be planned for the lowest-traffic time periods on HealthCare.gov, including Sunday mornings.”
Although CMS planned the same maintenance schedule last year, actual downtime was just 21.5 hours. On several days, the site was down for 3.5-4.5 hours in the early morning rather than the scheduled 12. The agency anticipates that, like last year, actual downtime will be shorter than planned.
Following last year’s announcement, former HHS CIO Frank Baitman told FierceHealthcare there “are no technical limitations” for the planned maintenance. Lawmakers requested that the OIG investigate the planned downtime, which led the agency to add a review of the federal marketplace enrollment systems to its work plan.