Computer glitches still slowing sign-up sites for health plans
Officials at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services for a second day declined to disclose how many people had enrolled in the health-care plan and where they live.
The Washington Post
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 federal site, Healthcare.gov, was sluggish and flashed error messages much of the day. The Obama administration said the delays were simply the result of an initial rush of people flocking to the site — 4.7 million unique visitors in the first 24 hours — while some in the health-care industry suggested the problem was more serious.
Officials at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services insisted that some people were able to get far enough into the site to peruse their insurance options, find out whether they qualify for financial help and enroll in a health plan. But administration officials, for a second day, declined to disclose how many people had enrolled and where they live.
Meanwhile, interviews with health insurers, industry consultants, nonprofit groups and people trying to sign up for coverage suggested the number was very low. Some companies that are offering plans on the federal site said Wednesday that no one had signed up with them.
“Very, very few people that we’re aware of have enrolled in the federal exchange,” said one insurance-industry official who, like many in the industry, spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We are talking single digits.”
A spokesman for one major Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in a Southern state said that, as of Wednesday afternoon, it had not received word from federal health officials of any customers who had completed enrollment in the plan, even though a local news outlet had reported about a man who thought he had signed up. So, plan officials didn’t know whether the man’s enrollment was incomplete or whether the federal reporting of enrollment was lagging.
Whether the snags of the opening days and the apparently small number of people enrolling right away present a long-term problem is a matter of intense debate, given that consumers may sign up for the new coverage for the next six months.
Some insurers and policy specialists speculated that the small trickle of early enrollments reflects prudent decisions by consumers to shop carefully, exploring the price and coverage under the various health plans newly available. “I wonder if, besides the glitches, people aren’t going onto the system and being smart consumers. If they can get on, looking and comparing ... but let’s not make a decision immediately,” said William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former top official at the insurer Cigna.
On the other hand, others said the early kinks, especially if they persist, could undermine consumer confidence in a law that has sparked fevered political opposition and widespread public confusion. “Everybody will give you a few days,” said Peter Beilenson, the chief executive of Evergreen Health, an insurer that is selling policies on the Maryland exchange. “But by next week, it’s got to be up and running.”
Experiences varied in the states, plus the District of Columbia, that are operating their own insurance marketplaces. In the District of Columbia, access to the online marketplace, D.C. Health Link, remained relatively smooth, although city officials declined to provide figures to show the volume of second-day interest.
Obama administration officials running the federal website urged patience. For example, people logging onto the site may run into a “holding page” for a few minutes before they are able to begin their applications. They should not refresh their browsers or leave the page, as they will lose their places in line.
Many people encountering problems have taken them in stride, willing to give officials the benefit of the doubt. For others, frustration has started creeping in. Beltsville, Md., resident Nancy Jean Beigel, 55, was among about a dozen people selected to stand with President Obama Tuesday at the White House to tout the law. But after two unsuccessful attempts at signing up for coverage, once Tuesday and once Wednesday, she gave up for the moment.
“It’s a little confusing,” said Beigel, who likely will qualify for free care under expanded Medicaid. “It’s not so great.”