“The system is down at the moment.’’
“We have a lot of visitors on our site right now.”
“Thanks for your patience!’’
Those error messages greeted visitors to the federal government’s healthcare.gov website Tuesday morning, the startup date for enrollment in the health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces.
These online shopping malls are geared to extend coverage to the uninsured and individual buyers under the Affordable Care Act.
Every state has an exchange. Georgia is one of 36 states that are having the federal government run their exchanges, with the main portal being healthcare.gov. But states that are operating their own exchanges were also having technical problems Tuesday.
Obama administration officials said they were aware of the glitches and were working on them.
Georgia supporters of the ACA pointed out that it was just the first day of a long enrollment process, and they said the website volume showed strong consumer interest in the insurance offerings. But opponents of the ACA, including most Republican politicians, claimed the glitches proved their longstanding contention that the law is flawed.
President Obama himself acknowledged the technical problems.
“More than 1 million people visited healthcare.gov before 7 in the morning,” he said at a news conference, promising that the administration would figure out how to “handle all this demand.”
“Like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the signup process along the way that we will fix,” Obama said. “I’ve been saying this from the start.”
The head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Marilyn Tavenner, told reporters late Tuesday afternoon that more than 2.8 million people had visited the healthcare.gov website since midnight. Tavenner said capacity was added during the day to handle the visitor load.
Federal officials said some people did successfully enroll for coverage Tuesday, but did not release the number.
Politico reported that the 1 million-visitor figure cited by Obama and other administration officials would hardly rank healthcare.gov among the most trafficked sites in the country.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said there may have been problems with the exchanges that were not related to an overload of visitors. “I’m sure there are,” he said, “as we said there would be.”
The exchange traffic Tuesday may have been bumped up at least slightly by people logging in out of curiosity. Reporters around the country (including at GHN) were doing their own explorations of how the exchange sites worked. Several media reports leading up to the launch had indicated that the sites might be hit by glitches on the first day.
Many visitors to the federal website hit a roadblock with the drop-down boxes on security questions that consumers were asked.
Some state-administered exchanges, including the one in Connecticut, were up and running Tuesday morning, Kaiser Health News reported. But those in Minnesota and elsewhere were having technical difficulties early afternoon. Maryland’s site for enrolling people crashed almost immediately.
Supporters and opponents alike of the health care reform law, known widely as Obamacare, expect more disruptions.
Obama recently acknowledged that the technology required to link online exchanges with health insurers and various government agencies would work far from smoothly at first.
The president pointed to Massachusetts, which launched its own insurance portal in 2007. There, Obama said, “it took several months before everything was smoothed out.”
Even before Tuesday, there were delays announced for the Spanish-language version of the federal website and in the online portal for small business enrollment.
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) immediately highlighted the glitches in an early statement.
“We have been warned time and time again that Obamacare is not ready for prime time,” Huelskamp said. “Well, it turns out that is right.”
Supporters of the ACA note that open enrollment will go on for six months. To be eligible for coverage Jan. 1, consumers must enroll by Dec. 15. But in any case, Oct. 1 was just a start date, not a deadline.
In Georgia, Dante McKay of Enroll America, a national nonprofit encouraging enrollment in the exchanges, said Tuesday that about 20 consumers who came to a Fulton County event at an East Point public library went away disappointed that they were not able to get through the technical glitches.
“The good news is there is interest in this,’’ McKay said. “A lot of people are eager. People have been waiting on this for a long time.”
“It’s just the first day of a six-month open enrollment period,’’ he added. “We see this as a marathon and not a sprint.’’
Amanda Ptashkin of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a consumer advocacy group, said Tuesday that experts did not expect many first-day enrollments.
Consumers have a great deal of information to digest about their insurance options before enrolling, said Ptashkin, who is training to be an insurance navigator. “It was not realistic [to expect] that people would rush to enroll the first day.’’