In many ways, Charlotte Kaufman is the Obama administration's ideal customer for the online insurance markets tied to the federal health care law.
The New Yorker turned 26 on the eve of the portals' launch Tuesday, meaning she no longer could stay on her parents' plan under the Affordable Care Act. But when she tried, multiple times, to sign up to New York State of Health, a state-run market tied to Obamacare, she was stymied by obvious glitches that timed out her computer session.
Despite her ordeal, she said she plans to try again, showing the type of resilience the Obama administration is banking on as it reels from nationwide reports of long waiting times and glitches on websites that were supposed to be up and running Oct. 1, ready to deliver a one-stop shop for health care coverage.
The administration has said there is plenty of time to cure what ails the Obamacare portals because open enrollment lasts until March 31. But patience is wearing thin among some.
Dave Tassey, a 61-year-old facilities manager in Vernon, N.J., tried multiple times to use the federal website because he has lacked health care coverage for 10 years. He figured he should look into the options, even if he had his doubts about Obamacare.
"And I like it less now," he said Monday, noting that repeated attempts to enroll took him "in circles."
Mr. Tassey said he is a Republican, although not a party hard-liner — he wants politicians to do what they promised to do when they ran for office.
He lives just 50 miles from Ms. Kaufman, but New Jersey opted to let the federal government run its exchange and will send its residents to the federal HealthCare.gov website that is handling enrollment among residents of the more than 30 states that declined to create their own exchanges.
"I'm borderline fed up," Mr. Tassey said. "I will try again."
The White House has downplayed persistent problems on HealthCare.gov as a symptom of intense interest in the president's health care reforms. Some tweaks to capacity portend smoother sailing ahead, they said.
"It's better today than it was yesterday and will keep getting better," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said late Monday on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.
But the administration has taken down the site in spurts for maintenance, and analysts have said coding issues prevent the site from handling a bevy of users who want to register and enroll.
Hit from all sides
Reviews of the online markets' wobbly rollout have ranged from brutal to silly to demanding.
In a scathing editorial, USA Today said the administration's claim that Web traffic is to blame for the problems is akin to saying "that except for the torrential rain, it's a really nice day."
Rep. Steve Stockman, Texas Republican, said Tuesday he will invite to the State of the Union address a 21-year-old Georgia man who became an instant celebrity for claiming to have successfully navigated the buggy federal website — only to explain later that he had not enrolled in a plan.
Other House Republicans demanded enrollment figures from Mrs. Sebelius.
"For the last 3 years, the administration repeatedly promised that everything was 'on track' for enrollment, but widespread reports of website failures and the administration's lack of transparency suggest otherwise," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican. "Although the administration was quick to boast how many people visited their website the first week, they have been silent on the most important numbers of all, enrollment."
A mixed outlook
Ms. Kaufman, a documentary filmmaker who had coverage until several months ago from a job she held abroad, said she has multiple young-adult friends who are not taking steps to gain insurance.
She refuses to espouse that attitude and is getting by with an expensive, stopgap form of coverage known as COBRA.
The Obama administration is hoping that younger people sign up for health care coverage through the president's reforms, assuming the markets become fully functional. Healthy customers would balance out the expected enrollments of greater numbers of older and sicker consumers with pre-existing conditions who no longer can be denied coverage under the law.
Republicans say the administration is asking young people to subsidize other people's health care, but supporters of the law argue that taxpayers already pick up the tab for uninsured Americans who use the emergency room as their go-to doctor's office.
Ms. Kaufman said she probably will opt for a silver-level plan that costs $250 to $300 per month, although she is not sure what kind of income-based subsidy she might get because she hasn't been able to make it through the website's step-by-step enrollment pages.
She thinks she will be able to get through the process eventually, but she said someone who already is skeptical of the law or has dire medical needs might not have a rosy outlook.
"It wasn't the end of the world to me," she said. "But I can imagine for someone in a different situation, that could be super-frustrating and really scary."
Mr. Tassey isn't bullish about Obamacare's future.
"I think it's going to come apart at the seams," he said. "They enacted it too fast. They didn't check it out first to make sure it worked."
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