By Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Around 15,000 enrollment forms filled out by people applying for health insurance under President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law were not transmitted properly to insurers, but the error rate plunged in recent weeks, the administration said on Saturday.
At the same time, in a sign that problems remain despite intensive efforts to repair the malfunctioning Affordable Care Act website, the Department of Health and Human Services said the Healthcare.gov site would be down for "extended maintenance" for 12 hours. It will not be accessible between midnight and noon on Sunday, the agency said in a statement.
The closing of the site for maintenance comes before what is expected to be a very busy week for enrollments for the program known as Obamacare. Consumers must sign up before December 23 if they want their new plans to kick in at the beginning of next year.
The botched rollout of the website badly marred the launch of a program that is aimed at expanding access to healthcare and will be, for better or worse, a central part of Obama's legacy.
The administration sought earlier in the day to emphasize improvements in what is known as the back end of the website, the part that transmits information provided by customers to insurers.
The website relays information about new customers in "834" transaction forms to the private insurance companies that provide the health plans. In the early stages of the plan, one in 10 transactions failed to transmit properly, Health and Human Services said last week.
HHS said in a blogpost on Saturday that the error rate dropped to 0.38 percent of total enrollment during the period from November 24 to December 5. The error rate had been as high as a shade over 15 percent during the period of October 13-26.
"These significant improvements are due to the technical fixes put in place by the end of November," the department said.
Most of the problems occurred between October 1 and the first few weeks of November when the system was experiencing widespread difficulties, the government said.
'COMING THROUGH CLEANER'
One insurance company official said her company had noticed the improvement.
Mary Beth Chambers, spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, said the company had decided it no longer needed to follow up individually with enrollees to verify their information.
"The 834s are coming through cleaner," Chambers said.
The general contractor running the team fixing the transaction forms is QSSI, a unit of United-Health Group Inc.
HHS said it was working to make sure that every form, including ones in the past, contained accurate information and that consumers could sign up for the health plans they want.
"We're assisting health plans in dealing with inaccurate 834s as efficiently as possible," HHS said. The agency added that to ensure that "no consumer falls through the cracks," it was advising every person who had enrolled through the federal marketplace to make contact with the relevant insurer.
On Thursday, the administration asked insurers to be flexible with Americans trying to buy new health policies through the federal website in an effort to prevent disruptions in coverage for plans due to start January 1.
(Additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Peter Cooney)