WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- Several state- and federal government-run health
insurance marketplaces opened Tuesday with glitches, delays and even
crashes, marring the launch of the centerpiece of President Obama's
health care law.
Some of the delays were due to high volume.
President Obama said in a White House conference that more 1 million
people tried to use the sites before they officially opened at 8 a.m.
The exchanges are the critical part of the Affordable Care
Act's requirement that uninsured Americans buy health insurance. They
opened Tuesday for business and the open-enrollment period for insurance
customers will last until March 31.
SIGN UP: HealthCare.gov insurance exchanges
"Like every new law, every new product signup, there are going to be some glitches that we will fix," Obama said.
glitches frustrated potential insurance customers around the country,
such as John Sanders, of Kaukauna, Wis. He said he signed up on the
exchange website three weeks ago but hit snags Tuesday.
called the system's launch "reckless at best. I will not accept the
'heavy traffic' argument. What else would be expected on the national
He and others faced many of the same problems online
shoppers often do on the busy Monday after Thanksgiving known as Cyber
Monday or like the launch of a new retail site.
State and federal
governments had no idea what to expect in terms of traffic, said retail
technology expert Peggy Pulliam. She said retailers will stress or
"load test" their sites simulating a surge of traffic ahead of big
"If any simulation they ran for the stress test
didn't reflect actual user behavior on that site today, they may have
not found the vulnerabilities." said Pulliam, vice president of services
for retail technology company Micros. "It's harder to load test a brand
new system because you don't know how people are going to browse and
shop the site."
Federal site an early bottleneck
problems centered on the federal government's HealthCare.gov site, the
portal through which many Americans will go to sites geared to their
states. The site is handling exchanges for 34 states that defaulted to
the federal government for at least the first year.
around the country frequently got messages telling them to come back
later or endured long delays in connecting to the sites.
Brian, a self-employed real state broker from Greenwood, Ind., said he
tried logging into HealthCare.gov and got a computer message: "Your
account couldn't be created at this time. The system is unavailable."
would just think that with all this time they've had to get it set up
and ready to go, they would have been a better premiere," Brian said.
potential customers, such as Nicole Argall of Appleton, Wis., were more
relaxed. She called the initial difficulties minor given the benefits
of having the new coverage.
"I had some trouble with the security
question portion, but I'll try again later or tomorrow," Argall said
Tuesday. "My husband and I are both self-employed and we've had issues
with pre-existing conditions and being rejected in the past. I think a
lot of people with employee-sponsored insurance don't understand that
there are lots of people like us that make a good living, but are
Much of the glitches could be caused by the
interest in the site, according to Joel Ario, formerly the director of
the Office of Health Insurance Exchanges at the Department of Health and
Human Services and now a managing director at Manatt Health Solutions.
Ario compared the politics surrounding Tuesday's launch to a football game between the left and the right.
day has gotten a lot more attention than anyone anticipated," he said.
"I'm not eligible for the exchange, but I've been on the site. There are
going to be reporters. I've seen a lot of people come across my screen
saying, 'Check out this state.'"
In the social media universe,
there are thousands of people who don't need insurance posting about the
glitches they encountered when they visited the federal site. And, for
those who do actually need insurance, Ario said it takes a few hits to
actually purchase it.
"It's a surprisingly high number to me,"
Ario said of the millions of hits reported so far. "I think it all goes
to that notion that this is supposed to be a six-month gradual process."
fact, he said the number of people who actually buy insurance Tuesday
could say a lot more than the number of people who check the site out of
"Even when people are frustrated they remain enthusiastic and interested."
he vowed he would be, the Rev. Donald Morton, pastor of Perfected Life
Church in Wilmington, Del., was first in line Tuesday morning at
Brandywine Women's Health Association to enroll in Obamacare.
though, and thousands of others nationwide, may need the patience of
Job for a while - especially on this first day of open enrollment.
hours, eager enrollees and their guides got hung up somewhere in the
"create an account" process or saw a message that said: "Please wait. We
have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make
your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the
login page. Thanks for your patience!"
Morton said he and others have been waiting a long time for health care. A little longer wouldn't hurt.
"I'm one of the most vulnerable," Morton said, "a black male with a pre-existing condition."
Oglesby, who directs Brandywine's team of certified marketplace guides,
said it probably was a good sign that the system was overwhelmed. It
shows the pent-up demand for such coverage, she said.
don't get through Tuesday can rest easy. There are six more months to
get through. If you want coverage to start Jan. 1, be sure to enroll by
Dec. 15. Otherwise enrollment for 2014 remains open through March.
residents were told they had to wait until sometime in the afternoon to
use Minnesota's new online marketplace for health insurance, the head
of the state-run exchange said Monday.
executive director of MNsure, said officials want to make sure the
system connects properly with federal computer systems and it's secure
before it goes live for consumers. MNsure officials had been saying for
months they expected consumers could start signing up at the start of
the business day Tuesday.
In Dearborn, Mich., long lines formed
early in the day at the Access, a non-profit social service agency that
is helping people navigate the new law, after the signup website stopped
Rick Murdock, of the Michigan Association of Health
Plans which represents Michigan insurers, said technical glitches aren't
unexpected. "That will take care of itself," he said of the website
delays. He said he doesn't expect a high number of enrollees the first
few days of the six-month enrollment period because consumers will, and
should, take their time to comparison shop and weigh their choices.
after the Detroit-based Thea Bowman Community Health Center opened at 8
a.m., a patient in for a regular check-up at 9:30 asked about his
options on the marketplace, triggering a call from his doctor to Jamie
Jackson is one of four community health guides for
Advantage Health Centers, which operates several clinics that provide
free and low-cost care to the homeless and poor.
Jackson said she
wasn't surprised at the call and she was able to discuss options for the
patient. Despite plenty of news about federal health reform and the
stalemate in Congress, consumers are still working out the details for
themselves, she said.
"I don't necessarily think that people will
be clamoring to sign up today," Jackson said, "but I do think that the
questions will start today."
Around the country
Early reviews from various states were mixed. For example:
Connecticut. Jason Madrak, the spokesman for the state's exchange, said
there were initial bugs but the exchange had 11,000 visitors and its
first customer at 9:30 a.m. and 24 by noon.
"We're off to the races," Madrak said.
Maryland. The state's marketplace announced a four-hour delay and
apologized for the inconvenience. "Thank you for visiting Maryland
Health Connection. We are experiencing connectivity issues. Please visit
the site again at 12 Noon."
• New York. Traffic apparently
overwhelmed its website. Reports on Twitter cited 2 million visitors in
the first 90 minutes that nystateofhealth.ny.gov
was open for business. A spokesman at the Department of Health at 8:30
a.m. said the site was working fine, but already there were delays,
locked screens and error messages. By mid-morning, the site was much
slower. While the home page came up on Internet Explorer, Firefox and
Chrome web browsers, server error messages were common when clicking on
the individual and small business links.
• Mississippi. At 9 a.m.,
healthcare.gov would not show Mississippi's exchange. Instead, it
displayed a message saying visitors would be directed to the login site
as soon as traffic allowed. After several minutes, a message appeared
saying the system was down. Several attempts to log in yielded the same
• Arkansas. The online exchange in Arkansas was moving at a
crawl due to heavy trafficl.Mountain Home, Ark., insurance agent Joey
Crump said a number of people have approached him seeking help today
with insurance needs but he has not been able to get on. "It' been
frustrating," Crump said.
• Iowa. Problems there problems went
beyond the exchange. Visiting Nurse Services and Planned Parenthood of
the Heartland both received federal grants to hire "navigators," who are
to help consumers figure out their options on the new online system.
Both agencies say they're working to hire and train navigators, and
should have them available within a few weeks.
Reporters trying to
ask questions about the website were equally out of luck Tuesday. The
Chicago-based Department of Health and Human Services staff bounced back
e-mails stating they were furloughed and unable to answer press
inquiries due to the federal government shutdown.
Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said 52% of her staff is
working despite the federal shutdown that started at midnight Tuesday.
Brian Eason, The Clarion Ledger; Matthew Daneman, Rochester Democrat
& Chronicle; Kevin Pieper, The Baxter (Ark.) Bulletin; Jens Manuel
Krogstad, Des Moines Register; Nick Penzenstadler. The Post-Crescent
(Appleton, Wisc.); Jess Rollins, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader.
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