In order to buy coverage that will start on January 1, consumers must enroll in plans and pay initial premiums by the middle of December. If healthcare.gov is not working well by that time, consumers 36 states will have difficulty getting affordable coverage in time for the beginning next year. (It's a different story in the rest of the country, where states and the District of Columbia are operating their own exchanges, with much greater success.) [...] Zients also announced that performance has already improved considerably, thanks to repairs HHS and its contractors already made. Initially, he noted, most people could not even get past the initial screens. Now, he said, 90 percent of people who log on are able to create accounts successfully. That's just one step in the process of obtaining coverage -- a point Zeints acknowledged. "It's going to take a lot of work and some time," he said, "but there is a clear path forward."
In fact, Zients stuck his neck out a bit, declaring that the site will be "running smoothly" for "the vast majority" of consumers by the end of November -- nearly a month from now.
As Jonathan Cohn explained, the calendar matters a great deal.
Zeints must believe strongly in this "clarity" or he almost certainly wouldn't make these comments. After all, if it's late November and the site isn't "running smoothly" for "the vast majority of users," the seriousness of this story -- both as a matter of policy and politics -- will get much worse.