Glitch delays online tools for U.S. health insurance marketplaces

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, facing glitches in necessary computer systems, is delaying two online tools supposed to go live Tuesday for enrolling Americans in insurance under the president's health law.

California is unaffected by the delay. But small businesses in some states that want to sign up their employees for health coverage on new federally run marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act will have to use paper forms until November, according to administration officials.


And Spanish-speaking Americans in some states who want to sign up for health coverage themselves on the new marketplaces will have to use an English-language enrollment system until Oct. 21, when the Spanish-language version is now slated to go online.

The two delays — an embarrassment to the president as he is trying to rally skeptical Americans behind the law — appear unlikely by themselves to have a major practical effect.

Though enrollment in health insurance guaranteed by the new health law is supposed to start Tuesday, consumers will not begin getting health coverage until Jan. 1.

Most Americans without employer health coverage will still be able to enroll online starting Tuesday at or through state websites in states that are running their own insurance marketplaces, according to Obama administration officials.

The health law establishes two insurance marketplaces in every state — one for individuals who can't get coverage through work and one for small businesses. Insurance plans sold on the marketplaces must meet new minimum standards and will not be able to turn away customers who are ill.

Fourteen states, including California, Connecticut and Maryland, are operating their own insurance marketplaces. These states are unaffected by the latest delays, though several of the state-run marketplaces have had their own technical problems.

The remaining states, including Florida and Illinois, have asked the federal government to run their markets. (Utah is operating its own marketplace for small businesses but deferring to the federal government for the marketplace serving individuals.)

"What is absolutely true is that on Oct. 1, everyone will be able to enroll," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday.

This summer, the administration announced it would delay for a year penalties on large employers that do not provide benefits to their workers.

Republican lawmakers, who have been trying to cut funding for the law or delay its implementation, seized on the latest problems.

"This law is a disaster, but the [marketplaces], the heart of the law, are supposed to go live in just five days? Give me a break," said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. "This law will never be ready for prime time."