HealthCare.gov experiences double trouble on deadline day
The Obamacare enrollment website, HealthCare.gov, endured renewed technical problems on Monday, creating serious obstacles for people trying to sign up before the midnight deadline and stirring up all those bad memories of the botched October launch.
The website was down six hours early in the day, bounced back for a while, and triggered its “virtual waiting room” to handle the traffic surge. But then another problem emerged around noon; people trying to start accounts for the first time couldn’t do so.
Amid a final wave of enrollment that seemed likely to bring signups well past the 6 million mark, Health and Human Services had already said it would allow “special enrollment” for people who hit glitches before the deadline. That may now prove to be a significant number of people who have run smack into Glitches 2.o.
“The tech team monitoring HealthCare.gov in real time has identified an issue with users creating new accounts. The application and enrollment tools are unavailable to new users at the moment,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the federal agency overseeing HealthCare.gov. “The tech team is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.”
Administration officials, their allies, and enrollment assisters had made final pitches across the country over the weekend, as more people in targeted populations turned toward the website near the end of the six month open enrollment season. Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, went on Rachael Ray’s cooking show Monday morning to talk about the “peace of mind” guaranteed access to coverage could offer the 126 million Americans with pre-existing conditions.
But the technology buckled.
HealthCare.gov was offline from about 3:20 a.m. until 9 a.m. after a software bug was discovered overnight, HHS said. The site gets routine nightly maintenance, but this incident spilled into high-profile hours on the final day. More than 2 million people went to the site over the weekend.
A spokesman said Monday morning that consumers were asked to leave their email during the five-hour offline gap so that they could “be invited back” when the system returned.
The last minute problems are likely to postpone getting a true, complete picture of how many people have signed up, how many have paid, how many are getting for the first time, and how many had insurance before.
Several states are also giving people extra time.
The midnight deadline marks the end of the six-month enrollment window, which got off to a terrible start but had recently outperformed many expectations. As of last week, more than 6 million people had signed up to get coverage, and hundreds of thousands more were flooding federal and state websites to do the same.
Top administration officials have been on the radio and traveling across the country to help close the deal with Americans, although President Barack Obama was overseas last week with nothing health-related on his official schedule.
In addition to Biden on TV, White House advisers Valerie Jarrett and Phil Schiliro were to participate in radio interviews to promote the law, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was going to be on the airwaves in Ohio, Texas, Florida and Oklahoma.
The end of enrollment marks just one phase in the Obamacare wars. With millions gaining coverage through the exchanges, Medicaid or by staying on their parents’ plan until age 26, Democrats can show the health care law’s benefits to voters before the 2014 mid-term elections.
But Republicans, buoyed by recent polls reaffirming Obamacare’s unpopularity and signs that candidates running against the law are gaining steam, plan to make it the centerpiece of their own sales pitch to Americans through November. The law, they argue, is driving up the cost of care, destabilizing the economy and forcing millions off their existing health plans.