Computer problems stall federal health care websites

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration, because of glitches in computer systems, is delaying two online tools supposed to go live Tuesday for enrolling Americans in insurance under the national health care law.

Small businesses in some states that want to sign up their employees for health coverage on new federally run marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act will have to use paper forms until November, according to administration officials.

And Spanish-speaking Americans in some states who want to sign up for health coverage themselves on the new marketplaces will have to use an English-language enrollment system until Oct. 21, when the Spanish-language version is now scheduled to go online.

The two delays appear unlikely by themselves to have a major practical effect.

Though enrollment in health insurance guaranteed by the new health law is supposed to start Tuesday, consumers will not begin getting health coverage until Jan. 1.

Most Americans without employer health coverage will still be able to enroll online starting Tuesday at or through websites in states that are running their own insurance marketplaces, according to Obama administration officials.

The health care law establishes two insurance marketplaces in every state: one for individuals who can’t get coverage through work and one for small businesses. Insurance plans sold on the marketplaces must meet new minimum standards and will not be able to turn away customers who are ill.

Fourteen states are operating their own insurance marketplaces, including Washington. Those states are unaffected by the latest delays, though several state-run marketplaces have had their own technical problems.

“What is absolutely true is that on Oct. 1, everyone will be able to enroll,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday.

This summer, the administration announced it would delay for a year penalties on large employers that do not provide benefits to their workers.

Republican lawmakers, who have been trying to cut funding for the law or delay its implementation, seized on the latest problems.

“This law is a disaster, but the (marketplaces), the heart of the law, are supposed to go live in just five days? Give me a break,” said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. “This law will never be ready for prime time.”

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