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Despite improvements, Obamacare website would still be a private sector failure

The shadow of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is shown as she speaks at the Community Health and Social Services Center in Detroit on Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Obama administration officials have spent this week touting a new and improved healthcare.gov website, boasting that it can now be accessed 95 percent of the time – but that still means that it would be down 18 days a year.

Department of Health and Human Services officials blitzed the news media Sunday with a report containing data purporting to show smooth functioning of the federal website for individuals seeking health insurance through President Obama's health care law.

One of the charts in the HHS report bragged that “uptime is consistently surpassing 90%.” Uptime, which measures the amount of time a website is available to visitors, was at 95.1 percent the week ending Nov. 30, according to HHS.

The department excluded scheduled maintenance in its calculation. The number was the best yet for the site, and represented a 43 percent increase from a month earlier.

“It sounds good, because people think, ‘Oh, 95 percent, that's an ‘A' when I went to school,” Justin Noll, director of client experience at AlertBot.com, which monitors website availability, told the Washington Examiner. “From a technology standpoint, that's not good.”

Noll said that the industry considers 99.9 percent uptime to be acceptable, but major retailers typically aim for at least 99.95 percent – or roughly 22 minutes per month. Ideally, the uptime should be 99.99 percent – or four minutes per month.

At its highest reported availability, the new and improved healthcare.gov would be down for a day and a half each month.

“To have the site totally inaccessible for a day and a half per month, that’s really bad,” Noll said. “If that was a retailer, they would typically bring in a new VP of IT and chief information officer … I mean, if you're selling something, that is a really horrible uptime.”

Jason Abate, founder of the website-monitoring firm Panopta, said he would give failing grades to retailers who don't achieve at least 99.9 percent uptime.

Abate provided the Examiner with Panopta's running tally of the uptimes of over 130 major retailers from Jan. 1 through Nov. 30 of this year.

The lowest recorded was 98.1 percent for women's clothing retailer Ann Taylor's website. But 33 of the sites were at 100 percent and all but three had uptimes of at least 99 percent.

Additionally, Panopta's numbers include time for scheduled maintenance, which is excluded from the HHS calculation for healthcare.gov.

When Healthcare.gov debuted Oct. 1, Obama claimed in a Rose Garden speech that it would make shopping for health insurance as easy as searching for a television on Amazon.

But according to Panopta, Amazon had an uptime of 99.96 percent, meaning it was down for a combined 191 minutes for the first 11 months of the year. At its current availability level, healthcare.gov would exceed that total in just three days.