It was a less than smooth start for the federal government's health insurance marketplace in 36 states, as heavy traffic to its website caused delays and system issues. The marketplace—fully or partly operated by HHS—opened amid a congressional budget standoff and a government shutdown.
A visit to the site at 10:00 a.m. EDT was met with the message: “The system is down at the moment. We're working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later.”
A second attempt, made 15 minutes later, was met with the message: “Health Insurance Marketplace: Please wait. We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experiences here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!”
In remarks delivered at the White House Tuesday, President Obama said the site had more than one million visits before 7 am, five times more visitors than have ever been on Medicare.gov at one time.
Many experts had predicted technical glitches at the outset, warning that the flood of new enrollees would likely overwhelm the federal government's site.
Sixteen states including the District of Columbia are operating their own state insurance exchanges
On Monday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
said the agency was anticipating such problems, and she urged patience as federal government worked out kinks in the system.
“If there is not quite the operational excellence right away, we will continue to press for that,” Sebelius said in a briefing with healthcare reporters at HHS headquarters. “And that secondly: Oct. 1 is not the end of anything. It is the beginning. It is the launch of a new product. There is a 6-month period to get outreach and education to folks and we will be working that entire 6 months to make sure that people have the best information.”
Sebelius compared the glitches with the exchanges to difficulties experienced recently by users of Apple's new operating system. Despite issues with the system, “no one is calling on Apple to not sell devices for a year or to get out of the business because the whole thing is a failure. Everyone just assumes there is a problem, we'll fix it and move on,” she said.
“We want it to work, we want it to work right,” she said, of the federal insurance marketplace. “We've got an incredible team working 24-7 to do just that, but hopefully they'll give us the same slack they gave Apple.”
Experts say the important date is Dec. 15, which is the deadline for when individuals and families must enroll to start receiving coverage by Jan. 1.
Some of the state-run exchanges were experiencing their own share of technical hurdles on opening day. New York's exchange posted this message on its website: “Due to overwhelming interest in the NY State of Health—including 2 million visits in the first two hours of the site launch—the health exchange is currently having login issues. We encourage users who are unable to log in to come back to the site later when these issues will be resolved.”
Minnesota's exchange had yet to go live at 12:45 pm EDT Tuesday. An update on the website said the exchange would be operational by the afternoon. Follow Maureen McKinney on Twitter: @MHMMcKinney