Like a Broadway musical that flopped with preview audiences, healthcare.gov debuted again this week after a quick overhaul.
The website is largely debugged, Obama administration officials announced, allowing residents in 36 states to shop online for health insurance without computer glitches. Fourteen other states, including California, are managing their own enrollment portals.
"The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity, with greatly improved performance," Jeffrey Zients, the White House official in charge of fixing the federal website, told reporters on Sunday.
We hope he's right.
Two months have been lost, and untold thousands of people were discouraged from applying by registration problems and frozen screens. More technical trouble would be an enormous, perhaps even fatal, setback for a program so closely associated with the president that supporters and opponents alike call it Obamacare.
There's far more at stake than President Barack Obama's sagging political fortunes. He is pursuing a goal that has stymied presidents from both parties for more than a century: universal health care.
Obamacare won't be truly universal. It can, however, extend coverage to 92 percent of Americans, reducing the ranks of the uninsured by 25 million within three years, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office.
The challenge — and the real test for the revamped website — is getting people signed up.
For insurance to take effect on Jan. 1, people must enroll by Dec. 23. To avoid a fine for failing to obtain coverage, the enrollment deadline is March 31.
With its upgrades, the federal website is supposed to support 50,000 visitors at a time and up to 800,000 a day. By 6 p.m. Monday, officials said, more than 700,000 people had logged on. Almost 18,000 people signed up, double the previous high.
That's promising. But the front-end fixes must be accompanied by improvements on the back end.
Insurers are complaining about computer-generated errors in the information they receive from healthcare.gov, warning that some consumers may not get the coverage they're expecting next month.
Another challenge is ensuring that younger Americans enroll.
Early data from state portals show that a large majority of the early enrollees are over the age of 35. In some states, fewer than 25 percent of enrollees are in the 18-34 age group, well below the Congressional Budget Office estimate of 38 percent.
If the concentration of older enrollees, who tend to have more claims, is too high, insurers are likely to raise rates, which would be a further disincentive for younger, healthier people to sign up.
Californians are fortunate. Coveredca.com, the state's website, has experienced relatively few problems, enrolling more than 60,000 people in its first six weeks. A portal for businesses with fewer than 50 employees launched on Monday.
But health care reform is a national program, and success won't be measured in a single state or several states. The show is opening, the bright lights are on and Washington must deliver.