WASHINGTON – The online insurance marketplaces created by President Obama’s healthcare law got off to a bumpy start Tuesday as some consumers were kicked off web portals and several states reported glitches that slowed enrollment on the first day Americans were supposed to be able to sign up for coverage.
The website for accessing federally run marketplaces – www.healthcare.gov – froze when some consumers tried to create accounts, the first step in selecting a health plan. Officials said the site got 1 million visits in the last day, five times more visitors than have ever been on the federal Medicare.gov site at one time.
And callers seeking information from a federal call center ( 318-2596) had to wait 20 minutes or more to get help.
In Maryland, which is running its own online marketplace, officials delayed opening of the website until noon and reported problems with their call center. Similar problems prevented consumers from getting information on health plans in Kentucky for a while.
Other states, including Oregon and Colorado, have already delayed some enrollment systems.
President Obama and his allies have warned that there would likely be glitches in the new systems for enrolling in health plans. And they have reminded Americans that they have six months to select a plan under the Affordable Care Act.
Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in a statement: “We have built a dynamic system and are prepared to make adjustments as needed and improve the consumer experience. This new system will allow millions of Americans to access quality, affordable healthcare coverage – without underwriting. Consumers who need help can also contact the call center, use the live chat function, or go to localhelp.healthcare.gov to find an in-person assistor in their community.”
Administration officials were hoping to minimize problems at a time when the 2010 Affordable Care Act is under increasing scrutiny and heightened attacks from critics.
Some states were reporting successes Tuesday. Connecticut announced mid-morning that a family of three were the first people to enroll in health coverage on its state marketplace.
The law is designed to allow Americans who don’t get coverage through an employer to shop for health plans on new state-based insurance marketplaces.
Insurers for the first time must meet new basic standards and are prohibited from turning away consumers with pre-existing medical conditions. Millions of low- and moderate-income Americans who make less than four times the federal poverty level – or about $46,000 – will qualify for government subsidies to help with their premiums.