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Originally published Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 7:55 PM

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State health-insurance exchange sees better day, but still snafus

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates the site, said fixes were made to the system, but warned that some users may still encounter difficulties.

Special to The Seattle Times

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It has been a bumpy two-day ride for the Washington Healthplanfinder website, the state’s health-insurance exchange portal, but by late afternoon Wednesday the performance of the site had improved significantly.

At noon Wednesday, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates the site, said in a news release that its information-technology team had made “some necessary system modifications” and “deployed a patch” to address some issues. It warned that “some users may still experience brief interruptions or difficulty browsing for plans.”

The fixes implemented seem to be related to bottlenecks created by unexpected user activity. According to Curt Kwak, chief information officer of the exchange, the staff created “more user connections to the servers and buffers to accommodate unexpected user behaviors.”

“We performed extensive testing with our staff throughout the night,” said Kwak. “They have been working around the clock to address the problems that customers are experiencing with the system. We understand the frustration that residents are having with the website and are committed to making this better.”

Healthplanfinder is the place Washington state consumers can shop for individual health-insurance plans through an exchange marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act.

Like the websites of exchanges in other states, Healthplanfinder went live Tuesday — at 7:30 a.m. It was almost immediately brought down for repairs as officials learned that visitors to the site were experiencing long delays and were unable to successfully create an account and fill out forms.

The site was relaunched at 2 p.m. Tuesday, though at least some users still experienced long delays and difficulty creating accounts, problems that continued into Wednesday.

In a news release late Wednesday afternoon, the exchange said the site experienced high demand in the first hours of operation, reaching 170,487 page views Tuesday.

In addition, a toll-free customer-support center received 6,199 calls Tuesday, twice what had been projected.

There also were 6,385 user accounts created by Wednesday afternoon.

Still, a call Wednesday afternoon to customer service resulted in a recorded message indicating the site could not currently take applications for insurance, but that the exchange was working to resolve the problems.

A live customer-service operator confirmed the problem and advised consumers to check back later.

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer in Seattle. This story was produced through a partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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