Buzz about Obamacare exposes bugs in the system

The debut of Obamacare was so successful Tuesday that the program didn’t work very well.

That, in a nutshell, was the split verdict reported by state and federal officials, who said tremendous interest in the state-based health exchange markets was so strong that it overloaded the websites designed to help uninsured Americans find coverage.


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“If this doesn’t show the hunger the American people have to sign up for health care, I don’t know what does,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said at a pep rally to tout the opening of the exchanges, which are a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act.

Top Republicans, though, said the first-day glitches prove Obamacare is not ready and that Democrats should have heeded GOP calls for a delay.

“Today, across the country, Americans are attempting to purchase health insurance on Obamacare exchanges and are being met with crashing websites, missing price information, confusing forms and, in some cases, exchanges that had to delay their start date because they aren’t ready yet,” said Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “These ‘glitches,’ which the president is trying to brush off, reveal how totally unprepared the government is for this launch even with 3½ years to prepare.”

The law’s supporters — including President Obama in remarks in the Rose Garden — said opening-day verdicts are premature and that heavy interest signals rosier days ahead for the exchanges because many consumers will sign up weeks later and should find a full suite of services.

Federal website HealthCare.gov attracted 2.8 million visitors by midafternoon, officials said. That appeared to be more users than the website could handle, prompting error messages that pleaded for patience because there were “a lot of visitors on our site now.”

“That gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans around the country, and that’s a good thing,” Mr. Obama said.

The online exchanges allow people without employer-based coverage to shop for private health care plans, often with the help of income-based government subsidies. Open enrollment lasts until the end of March, although consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 to have coverage at the start of January, when the individual mandate requiring all Americans to have insurance takes effect.

Three years after the law’s passage, the exchanges are considered one of two linchpins of the law — the other is the expansion of Medicaid in states that choose to do so — that could determine whether Mr. Obama’s signature vision is a success or failure.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to release enrollment figures from its federally run exchanges, saying it would release them regularly at points in the future, although several states were able to release detailed data.

D.C. Health Link reported 3,356 accounts on the capital city’s exchange. Among them, 398 completed applications and four consumers completed enrollment, including payment.

But some state-run exchanges experienced problems with their security-question functions, while others were overwhelmed. The New York State exchange reported 2 million site visits in its first two hours of operation and asked visitors who were unable to log in to come back later.

Opening the portals

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have set up their own online portals with unique names such as Cover Oregon, Kynect in Kentucky and the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange in Nevada. The rest of the states are relying entirely or in part on the federal government to run their exchanges for them.

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