“Well, Facebook Wasn’t Built In a Day.” – Unnamed Exchange Developer.
More than 4.8 million users visited Healthcare.gov for the grand opening of the federal health insurance marketplace on Tuesday, according to officials.
It didn’t go quite as planners had hoped. In fact, if there was an unofficial word of the day, it was glitch.
Many users of Healthcare.gov reported long delays and difficulty accessing the federal insurance marketplace, experiencing “glitches” ranging from error messages to blank pages. The problems were repeated at state-run exchanges around the country to varying degree, from California to New York.
Pundits like Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein were quick to point out that the political victory the GOP might have gained from the uncertain start was largely lost in the uproar in Washington over the government shutdown, which dominated news reports.
At least one frustrated user chronicled the experience (see related post ‘Descent into Madness: One Man’s Visit to Healthcare.gov, October 1st ). Others took to Twitter to express their outrage or show off their savage or finely-tuned senses of humor.
Users of the federal exchange reported problems including error messages (see above), funky dropdown menu behavior, page freezes, blips, broken links and long page load times — generally either a sign of high volume or inelegantly designed databases.
HHS officials declined to reveal how many people signed up for new insurance plans overall, leading some theorists to speculate that not very many people were able to make it through the process successfully. In point of fact, there were suspiciously few reports of users successfully completing the registration process at all, probably not a very good sign and possibly an indication of a disaster.
The New York Times interviewed a Wisconsin navigator who said their group was not able to successfully sign up any of the users they worked with.
The Washington Post talked with a West Virginia navigator who confirmed 2 sign ups.
It gets worse. Health plans selling insurance through the new federal site site said they were shocked by the low number. One was quoted by a Washington Post reporter:
“Very, very few people that we’re aware of have enrolled in the federal exchange,” said one insurance industry official, who like many in the industry, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for possibly offending the Obama administration. “We are talking single digits.”
Some reports bordered on the comical. The Post found a man who thought he had been able to sign up. It later turned out he hadn’t.
Another was happy he had least received a confirmation email informing him that his registration was successful.
Administration officials downplayed the problems and said the issues would be quickly resolved. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that more than 110,000 callers were able to get through by telephone to the HealthCare.gov helpline. Of course, that could either be an indication of a well-designed and executed government call center strategy or an indication that all is not be well on the web site front.
How well did Healthcare.gov actually do? It will be some time before we know.
By way of comparison, officials said that more than 5.0 million people were able to visit the California exchange its first 24 hours of operation. Officials did not provide details on the number of Californians who were able to successfully sign up for health insurance. Embarrassed California officials later retracted the number – saying the real number was a bit lower. Okay, a lot lower. More like 500,000.
New York said more than 2 million people were able to visit a New York State of Health before the site began slowing down.