October 3, 2013 in Nation/World

Health care exchanges struggle to keep up

Tony Pugh McClatchy-Tribune
 

WASHINGTON – For the second straight day, computer problems continued to stymie online visitors hoping to compare health plans or enroll in coverage on state insurance marketplaces under the new health care law.

Federally operated websites and those run by states had similar problems as their computer systems once again struggled to accommodate large numbers of people trying to access the marketplaces at the same time.

The delays, crashes and glitches have marred the October debut of the marketplaces, which serve as a one-stop, online shopping mall for 2014 health insurance coverage required under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which provides the operating systems for 36 state marketplaces, is adding additional capacity to handle the high user volume. Nearly 5 million unique visits and 104,000 Web chat requests were logged on the department’s healthcare.gov website on Tuesday, along with 190,000 calls to its 24-hour telephone call center, at (800) 318-2596.

The delays that continued Wednesday offered one good sign for President Barack Obama and supporters of his signature domestic policy achievement, demonstrating what appeared to be exceptionally high interest in the new system. But the problems also could dampen enthusiasm for the law as Republicans use it as a rallying cry to keep most of the federal government closed.

“It’s day two of health care reform, and we have yet to have someone successfully register on the marketplace,” said Matt Hadzick, manager of a Highmark retail insurance store in Allentown, Pa., where people could go to register for the online insurance marketplace. “The registration process is very slow, and at one point it just shuts down.”

The sweeping changes under the Affordable Care Act include federal subsidies to make insurance more affordable for low-income consumers and preventing health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. That will open the door for coverage to many people who have been locked out of the insurance market.

The volume of traffic on the HHS website and call center “exceeded anyone’s expectations,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday on MSNBC. “We were planning on a lot of people being interested. We had no idea of quite how many.”

Sebelius said call center wait times had been reduced on Wednesday, and checks with the system showed this to be true. In separate calls, a reporter reached a human operator in less than 30 seconds.


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