(Bloomberg) -- Consumers trying to use the health- care law’s new online insurance markets faced long waits and technical breakdowns for a second day, continuing a rocky start for a system at the center of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
While a federal website serving 36 states was working faster today, some users were still unable to create accounts or reach online enrollment counselors. New York State’s health insurance exchange, which crashed under the weight of 10 million web visits yesterday, was offline again this morning and encouraged people to try back later in the day.
The continued stumbles threatened to sour consumers on the law’s new markets even as the White House touted the high volumes as a sign of Americans’ interest in the new benefits. While some exchanges improved over yesterday’s troubled opening, website breakdowns prevented people from checking the new insurance options, much less signing up.
“The portal is open, but it’s super slow,” said Apoorva Srivastava, a worker at a Silver Spring, Maryland, health clinic who struggled to enroll people through a state-run exchange. “It’s too many on it. It’s not letting me in.”
Healthcare.gov, the federally run exchange, received 4.7 million unique visits in its first 24 hours, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said today in a statement. A federal call center received more than 190,000 calls yesterday as well.
It was unclear how many people actually created accounts or were able to enroll in health plans. The department expected similar volumes today, Joanne Peters, an HHS spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The Obama administration was working to solve any problems, Jay Carney, a spokesman, told reporters at a White House briefing.
The delays were triggered by high volume that “reflects the extreme interest in the opening of the marketplaces and the opening of the opportunity for individuals to shop for and select affordable health insurance for the first time,” Carney said. “We are working on them to ensure that they’re fixed and the process becomes more and more smooth for visitors to the website every day.”
Not everyone had their path blocked. In Maplewood, Minnesota, John Nephew, a publisher and distributor of board games, said he was able to log into the state’s MNSure site, calculate his federal subsidy and browse a list of insurance plans. He found a policy that would cut his family’s monthly premium almost in half and planned to come back later to sign up, he said.
“For the moment, that’s good enough for me,” Nephew, 43, said in an e-mail. “I now know it’s worth looking at more closely, and we still have months to do that before the new year.”
The difficulties with the online insurance marketplaces gave new ammunition to Republicans who say the law doesn’t work, even as they clashed with Obama over the first partial government shutdown in 17 years.
Republican lawmakers, who’ve resisted appeals to increase funding for the law, called for a one-year delay. “We should have never gotten to this point,” U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said yesterday in a statement. “The Obama administration should have acknowledged the ample warning signs of problems in the exchanges.”
The exchanges are a centerpiece of a law enacted in 2010 and designed to provide health plans for some of the 48 million uninsured Americans. The websites are supposed to help consumers access federal subsidies and choose from a menu of private insurance plans that take effect next year, when the law requires all Americans to obtain insurance.
The administration is seeking to get about 7 million people to buy policies through the exchanges in the open enrollment period that runs through March. Enrollees have until Dec. 15 to buy a policy that takes effect on Jan. 1.
This morning, four of 14 states running their own health exchanges were having problems or weren’t available. Before 8 a.m., New York’s website wasn’t available at all, and the homepage had been replaced with a message that cited “overwhelming interest.”
“We encourage users who are unable to log in to come back to the site later when these issues will be resolved,” the page read.
Nevada and Washington state reported technical problems with their websites as well. In Nevada, 99 people had applied for coverage yesterday, the state said on a Twitter account. The difficulties were caused by too much traffic, C.J. Bawden, a spokesman for the Nevada exchange, said.
Washington’s exchange was inaccessible as it underwent repairs, said Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
While the federal site couldn’t be accessed for much of yesterday, administrators “added capacity and made adjustments” to put it back into service by late afternoon, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told reporters yesterday. She declined to say how many people enrolled in plans through the site.
“This’ll be a shake-out cruise, there’ll clearly be bumps,” Peter Bielenson, chief executive officer of Baltimore- based insurer Evergreen Health Co-Op, said today in an interview with Bloomberg Television. The company was “deluged with calls” on the first day.
It remained unclear how much the wave of interest would translate into enrollments. If the technical issues aren’t quickly fixed, they may spur a backlash, said Douglas Holtz- Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who is now president of American Action Forum, an advocacy group that opposes the law.
“To have something that doesn’t work after two-and-a-half years is pretty underwhelming,” Holtz-Eakin said yesterday in a telephone interview.
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Digital Insurance content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access