October 1, 2013 in Region

Health website experiencing opening-day troubles

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington state’s new Health Plan Finder website, wahealthplanfinder.org, displayed opening-day malfunctions early Tuesday.

Online insurance marketplaces, at the heart of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, struggled in various states to handle the volume of new consumers Tuesday, the first day of a six-month open-enrollment period.

Idaho’s health exchange website was up and running this morning, but it was slow and wait times were longer than anticipated; officials said they expect to have the problem resolved within a few hours. The state’s in-person assisters, agents and brokers all were able to access the system.

Federal officials told the Associated Press they were working to address the website problems as quickly as possible. People contacting the federal call center also reported long wait times.

Created to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, Washington’s site has two roles that are expected to attract heavy traffic:

—It is to be the application portal for Medicaid, the government-funded health plan for low income people.

—It will sell competing health insurance plans, with federal subsidies to reduce the cost.

At 5 a.m., the site was up and responsive.

But regular checks between 6:30 a.m. and noon often found the site to be unresponsive. Web browsers returned a variety of error messages, sometimes stating it could not be found, or stating it was “coming soon,” or declaring incorrectly that the user’s web browser settings had disabled javascript.

By mid-day, however, the site began to work for some users, enabling them to create login accounts, processing their personal information and displaying insurance options for them to choose. For other users, the crush of opening day traffic made the site unreachable.

The website is operated by Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange, a public-private agency created by the Legislature and funded with federal grants. Deloitte LLP, based in New York and one of the world’s largest professional services firms, is the contractor hired to build the website. Its programmers have been working on the site for months.

More than 800,000 residents of Washington state have no health insurance coverage. The Affordable Care Act provides new avenues for them to obtain it, either through the federally funded expansion of Medicaid or by purchasing private health coverage on the Health Plan Finder website.

Tuesday marks the opening of the enrollment window for purchasing health coverage or signing up for expanded Medicaid, to take effect Jan. 1.

Although Washington’s Health Plan Finder site struggled in its opening hours, the federal insurance-buying marketplace, www.healthcare.gov, seemed to be working. Twenty-seven states opted against development of their own health insurance website, and are relying on the federal site instead. Idaho is developing its own exchange, but initially, its website, yourhealthidaho.org, connects applicants to the federal site to sign up for plans.

(This is a developing story and will be updated as new information is available.)


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