Web traffic, glitches slow Obamacare exchanges launch

(Reuters) – Technical glitches and heavy internet traffic slowed yesterday’s launch of new online insurance exchanges at the heart of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, showcasing the challenge of covering millions of uninsured Americans.

The opening itself represented a victory for Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement after years of attack from Republican foes and delays in building the technology infrastructure to support sites in 50 U.S. states. It defied a partial federal government shutdown precipitated by Republican efforts to delay the law’s implementation.

“As long as I’m president I won’t give in to reckless demands by some in the Republican Party to deny affordable health insurance to millions of hard-working Americans,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden after his meeting with people who stand to benefit from the healthcare overhaul.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, will provide subsidized health insurance based on income through the state exchanges and expand Medicaid coverage for the poor from Jan. 1, representing the most ambitious U.S. social program since Medicare plans for the elderly launched in the 1960s.

Reuters checks in at least 47 states throughout the day turned up frequent error messages or traffic overload notices, particularly for 36 sites run by the federal government. One frequ
ently observed glitch involved a page asking the user to answer security questions that either went blank or would not accept new data. Kansas officials urged residents to wait a few weeks for the “bugs” to be worked out before enrolling.

The Department of Health and Human Services said 2.8 million people visited the federal HealthCare.gov since midnight, with 81,000 reaching out to call centers and 60,000 requesting live chats. The department did not provide details on the source of the traffic or the number of visitors who applied for health insurance, but said it was working to speed up the site.

“We think we’re off to a good start,” said Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the new exchange.

The performance of state-run exchanges was mixed, with users in Connecticut, Rhode Island and California able to create profiles. Kentucky said it had processed more than 1,000 insurance applications, while Colorado said 1,300 user accounts had been created. Maryland delayed its launch by hours. When it went live, access stalled for some users.

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