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Administration officials: Expect more Obamacare website crashes

This screenshot made shows the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' main landing web page for healthcare.gov. With website woes ongoing, the Obama administration Monday granted a six-week extension until March 31, 2014 for Americans to sign up for coverage next year and avoid new tax penalties under the president's health care overhaul law. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Federal health officials explained the latest Obamacare website crash as an expected outage caused by a “load-balancing problem” and said the website is likely to suffer others as experts feverishly work to fix the site over the next four weeks.

Healthcare.gov shut down midafternoon Monday for roughly 90 minutes, preventing people from signing up for health care coverage on the federal insurance exchange.

“This is really an expected part of the process as we're able to spot new issues and we expose more volume to the system,” Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters.

The daily 1:30 p.m. CMS update for the media was initially delayed to 1:45 p.m. and later to 4 p.m. The website appeared to be back up and running at around 2:20 p.m.

A government contractor working on repairing the website said the crash occurred because of a flaw in the way the system balanced the number of users among various servers.

“We were able to quickly diagnose and stabilize the site,” said Andy Slavitt, executive vice president of Optum Group, a company that provides health care technology consulting.

The latest healthcare.gov blackout came as HHS struggles to meet a self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to ferret out all the bugs and have the website fully functional.

The “tech surge” team working round the clock to fix the website's problems have taken down the site at set times for repairs, including for 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday last weekend.

By the end of the month, Obama administration officials say the website will no longer by plagued by crashes and other problems that have frustrated users, keeping applicant numbers far lower than expected, which could imperil the entire law if too few healthy younger people enroll.

Experts say that deadline will be difficult for the administration to meet.

“To get it 100 percent there – that's a herculean task and I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect it to get all the way there by then,” said Nish Bhalla, CEO of information security firm Security Compass.