In its first week of operating, the federal health insurance marketplace has been plagued with glitches preventing many from enrolling in health insurance plans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced late Friday that key online components of Healthcare.gov will be temporarily unavailable during off-peak hours this weekend in order to fix the technical issues.
Applications to the site will be unavailable for a few hours after 1 a.m. EST on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday mornings. During this time, programmers will be working to fix major software glitches. The telephone call center will remain open.
"We expect that Monday, less than a week after the marketplace opening, there will be significant improvements in the online consumer experience," said Joanne Peters, a Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman.
As one of the biggest and most visible components of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010, the online health insurance marketplace was designed to allow people to shop for quality health plans at competitive rates, as well as help people gain financial assistance for those who qualify.
Online Visitors To Health Insurance Marketplace Face Blocks To Enrollment
Less than 1 percent of the applications on the federal exchange contain enough information for insurers to enroll in health plans, according to CNBC. Many of the problems are rooted in how the exchange’s software collects and verifies applicant’s information. Without complete data, insurers are unable to enroll customers into health plans.
The White House attributes the problems to higher-than expected traffic. In the first three days, Healthcare.gov logged 8.6 million unique visitors, the majority of whom used the site to shop for health insurance, according to the DHHS. Previously, the administration anticipated a slow start to enrollment that would build gradually. The New York Times editorial board describes the bottleneck as evidence of a “pent up demand” for health insurance.
State-Run Health Insurance Marketplaces Operate Successfully
Major problems with enrollment plague the federal marketplace only. Many of the 14 state-run insurance marketplaces are running smoothly, despite widespread technical issues earlier in the week. States that elected to run their own exchanges began preparing soon after the health reform act was passed, and long before the federal government began preparing the online marketplace.
State officials from Connecticut, Kentucky, and Maryland report that their marketplaces are successfully enrolling after some first day glitches. New York state had 30 million visits in the first two days, but most likely because of visitors repeatedly reloading the page due to problems with the site. Officials from Illinois report that 5,000 people have used their system to apply for Medicaid as of Thursday. The California call center for the state-run Covered California received 19,000 calls and 7,700 Californians began applications on the first day.
There's Still Time To Enroll For Health Insurance
White House officials are hopeful that the rocky start will not affect enrollment over the long run. People looking to sign up for benefits guaranteed to begin in January still have until Dec. 15 to enroll. For coverage starting later into the year, enrollees can still apply until Mar. 31.
According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, the administration hopes that 7 million people will sign up for private health insurance and 9 million more will enroll in public Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs for 2014. Ideally, 2.8 million of these new enrollees will be ages 18-34, whose premiums will subsidize health costs incurred by older and sicker enrollees.