Healthcare.gov, the website where Americans can shop for health insurance, is now officially open for business. It's sleek, translates well to an iPhone, and ostensibly offers live support by chat. Unfortunately, it's also buggy and agonizingly slow, and the chat support was unavailable. Many users have experienced errors for hours or have been locked out entirely.
"I've been trying since last night," Twitter user @patrickhills told The Verge. "No dice."
The site is supposed to either help you sign up for health insurance or redirect to a local site if you live in one of the 15 states (16 including Utah's small business-only site) that opened their own exchanges. When The Verge attempted to create a login, the site was overloaded: "Please wait. We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!"
After a few minutes, we were directed to create a user name and password. The user name must include a symbol or number, an unusual requirement but presumably done for added security, and the password requirements were strong. So far, so good. But when we got to step three — security questions — all the drop-down menus were blank. We then got a message saying: "Important: Your account couldn't be created at this time. The system is unavailable."
@HealthCareGov has been inundated with complaints via Twitter. "We're working to fix these issues as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience," the account tweeted.
Thanks for all your comments and updates as you enroll. We apologize that wait times on the site and hotline are longer than expected! (1/2)— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) October 1, 2013
We're working to fix these issues as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience (2/2)— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) October 1, 2013
The Verge was unable to get past the account registration phase, although it's unclear if the site would have been usable even then. One user reported registering, only to find the site did not recognize his login. Our call to the marketplace support center was answered within 11 minutes but was no help: call center reps are using the same website to sign people up. If you don't already have an account registered, there is nothing they can do.
Ben Lamb, who lives in Indiana, has been trying to sign up with no success. "Right now I have a Blue Cross plan that I think was the cheapest, but it was hard to actually get a quote from an insurer without an intent to buy, which is why I'm excited about this new system," he said in an email. "Websites all have hiccups under load like this so hopefully they'll have everything figured out soon."
Some state sites have also reportedly had problems
Some of the state sites have also reportedly had problems. California's site was slow and not working properly, users reported. Maryland announced a four-hour enrollment delay. New York reported "login issues" after getting 2 million visits in the first two hours. Colorado, Washington, DC, and Oregon all announced delays last week. Colorado in particular has been working on its site for two years and was supposed to be among the most prepared, so it was alarming when the state said it wasn't ready. However, it ended up launching on time, albeit with some glitches.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned ahead of time that there might be problems with the exchanges. "We're likely to have some glitches. We will fix them and move on," HHS head Kathleen Sebelius said Monday.
There is some time to fix the exchanges before millions of Americans are cut off. If you enroll by December 15th, you can get coverage starting January 1st. The enrollment period lasts until March 31st, 2014. People who miss that window will have to wait until the next open enrollment period. These technical issues should be resolved before anyone is prevented from getting insurance — or else the government will have to consider extending the deadlines.
More than 2.8 million people flooded the federal site today, HHS said in a briefing this afternoon, and people have been successfully enrolling in health insurance plans. The agency declined to specify a number for new enrollments, saying it will be released soon. "This is day one of a process," said Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services within HHS. "We're in a marathon, not a sprint and we need your help."