The Trump administration is planning hours-long downtimes for maintenance on healthcare.gov during the coming ObamaCare sign-up period.
The administration drew criticism for a similar move last year from advocates who said the downtime would hinder efforts to sign people up for coverage, but the administration counters that maintenance downtime happens every year and is designed to occur during the slowest periods on the site.
The maintenance schedule is the same as last year, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Tuesday, meaning healthcare.gov is scheduled to be offline for maintenance from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. each Sunday during the sign-up period, except for the final Sunday, for a total of 60 hours of downtime.
Officials said that is the maximum possible downtime, and said last year the actual downtime was significantly less than what was scheduled, at 21.5 hours out of a scheduled 60.
“Maintenance windows are regularly scheduled on healthcare.gov every year during Open Enrollment,” a CMS spokesperson said.
“Regular scheduled maintenance will continue to be planned for the lowest-traffic time periods on healthcare.gov, including Sunday mornings,” the spokesperson added. “Last year, healthcare.gov was down for significantly less than the full amount of time initially authorized.”
CMS said there were 53.5 hours of maintenance downtime on Sunday mornings at the end of 2016, under the Obama administration.
The coming sign-up period, for 2019 coverage, runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.
"CMS is clearly at pains to provide assurances of its benign intent in this maintenance schedule," said Eliot Fishman, senior director of health policy at the liberal health-care advocacy group Families USA. "But with the President continuing to regularly brag about gutting the ACA and with the Administration refusing to defend the law in court, there is reason to be concerned about a schedule that takes the federal marketplace down for long stretches over weekends during holiday season. We’ll be watching this closely."
Any announcement on the Trump administration’s plans for ObamaCare sign-ups draws scrutiny. Democrats have long accused the administration of “sabotaging” the law.
For example, the Trump administration last year cut the advertising budget to encourage people to sign up by 90 percent, a move that Democrats quickly criticized saying it would significantly hinder the number of people enrolling.