September 29, 2017 at 2:51 PM
The Health and Human Services Department came under fire last week after announcing that the federal website to buy coverage under the Affordable Care Act would be unavailable for 12 hours nearly every Sunday during this year's open enrollment season.
With the upcoming enrollment season just half as long as last year's, the schedule for HealthCare.gov renewed criticism that the Trump administration is trying to keep consumers from signing up for 2018 health plans.
On Friday, HHS released new data that showed this year's planned outages mean the website will be down roughly 11 percent longer compared to a similar six-week period last year. The site is slated to be unavailable for a total of 60 hours, compared to 53.5 hours last year, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15.
"This year's potential maintenance schedule is consistent with last year's under the previous administration," HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd said in an email. That maintenance helps federal agencies ensure the information consumers enter into the system can be verified, he explained. "System downtime will continue to be planned for the lowest-traffic time periods on HealthCare.gov, including Sunday mornings."
The department did not give outage times for the second half of last year's 12-week enrollment period, but an HHS official said the site's overall downtime was "similar throughout the rest of open enrollment."
HHS supplied a chart showing that HealthCare.gov is set to be unavailable later in the morning on four different Sundays compared to last year. An agency official said actual outage times always could be shorter than planned.