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HealthCare.gov hit by minor glitch and functionality questions

The homepage of HealthCare.gov is shown in this picture.

Obamacare website HealthCare.gov got off to a rocky start last October, when a rush of would-be customers crashed the insurance portal, making it nearly impossible for anyone to sign up for coverage online during the first few months of open enrollment under the president's health care law.

The experience was painful but instructive, and officials are hoping to avoid another mess this year during the second open enrollment period, which begins November 15 and lasts for three months. They've streamlined the application process, according to the Associated Press, by reducing the number of pages consumers have to click through from 76 to 16. They've also optimized the site for browsing on mobile devices.

Given those and other adjustments, officials are confident this year's enrollment will be markedly more efficient than last year's. But just a few weeks out from game time, a translation error on the Spanish language website and concerns about transparency are raising questions about whether HealthCare.gov is ready for round two.

The translation mistake was on the homepage of the Spanish version of the website. Designers who were supposed to translate "Get Ready" came up with "preparase."

The word they were looking for was "preparese," with an "e" in place of an "a." The mistake -- which has already been fixed -- was the first piece of text seen by visitors to the site, and it was repeated two other times on the homepage.

Mistranslation notwithstanding, Andy Slavitt, a technology executive brought in by the government to oversee the relaunch of HealthCare.gov, predicted the website would offer a far smoother ride this year than it did last year.

"Where we are focusing in on is a successful consumer experience," he told the Associated Press.

But one element of that experience - the ability to compare the features of different insurance plans to find a cost and and a provider network that works for you - may be lacking.

When HealthCare.gov re-launches, the site still won't provide customers the ability to determine which hospitals and doctors are covered under various plans at a glance. To get that information, customers will have to research each individual plan on the insurer's website.

That can be easier said than done, the New York Times notes - information on insurers' websites is sometimes out of date, and it's not always clear which provider networks correspond with which plans.

So-called "narrow networks" that limit a customer's choice of providers can be an effective way to contain costs, and studies have shown that they don't necessarily result in worse health outcomes for their customers.

But their appeal rests on the idea that consumers signing up for a narrow network would know exactly what they're getting into, and plan their medical care accordingly. And it's not at all clear that's the case: a study from the Commonwealth Fund found that 25 percent of people who signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act were not aware that they'd bought a plan that limited their provider options. That lack of awareness can generate an unwelcome case of sticker shock when customers receive a bill from a provider who's not covered on their network.