This probably wasn’t the way President Obama wanted the first week of his signature policy initiative to go.
The health-care law’s new online marketplaces, or “exchanges,” stumbled out of the block last week as reports of long wait times, stalled websites, and repeated error messages popped up across the country. Not only were most users unable to purchase the individual-market plans offered for the first time on October 1, but various bugs and glitches prevented visitors from even getting onto the sites meant to sell them — especially the federally run marketplaces set up for the 26 states not running their own. The Obama administration has been shifty about both the cause of the sites’ sluggishness as well as the total enrollment numbers up to this point, which has only added to the embarrassment around the unveiling.
Here are some of the biggest “fails” from both the federal and state-run sites from the past week:
Nearly every application on the federal exchanges either failed to sufficiently submit the necessary information or was inadequately processed due to issues with the website and its software. Several health-insurance industry sources told CNBC that as few as 1 in 100 applications on the site contain enough information for someone to enroll. This flub could result in large numbers of would-be enrollees believing they’ve signed up for a plan for next year. One data-company CEO dismissed claims that the glitches were due to high traffic: “This is not a traffic issue. Right now, the systems aren’t working.”
Chad Henderson drew tons of attention from top media outlets when the Obama administration identified him as a successful enrollee on the federal exchanges, only for it to be revealed by his father that he did not, in fact, enroll. Reason’s Peter Suderman tracked down the elder Henderson, who was surprised by the news of his son’s supposed accomplishment. Chad, a 21-year-old Georgia resident, was also discovered to be an Obama and OFA volunteer, and even said on his Facebook page that he was paid quarterly “to post political stuff as ‘advocacy,’” which he later said was just a joke. Henderson tried to clarify that by “enroll” he meant that he had submitted an application without actually picking a plan, and blamed the media for not understanding what he meant. Reporters had seized on Henderson’s story because they could not track down anyone else who’d successfully enrolled on the federal exchanges.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday, just four days after its launch, that the federal site would be unavailable during off-peak hours throughout the weekend in order to address several glitches.
On the morning of the exchange’s rollout, MSNBC’s Mara Schiavocampo ran into problems many people across the country were experiencing: online error messages, long wait times, and sitting on hold for extended periods of time when she called for customer support. “If I were signing up for myself, this is where my patience would be exhausted,” she said before she eventually gave up.
Two hundred visitors to the University of Arkansas School of Public Health’s opening event for the state’s federally run health-care exchange were forced to take up pen and paper because the website wasn’t working. “You go through all this training for this, and then you can’t put it in action, so it’s frustrating,” one Obamacare “navigator” told the state’s Southwest Times Record.
Jean Beigel, one of the handful of people selected to flank President Obama during his remarks about the exchanges on their October 1 launch date, told the Washington Post she had given up on trying to sign up for coverage for the moment, after two failed attempts, because of the website’s slow loading time. She described the process as “a little confusing” and “not so great.”
Covered California trumpeted evidence of the site’s popularity, or at least what it thought was evidence of popularity. State officials said Day One had seen 5 million hits to the site, before having to walk back the number to a much lower 645,000. A spokesperson said “someone misspoke” in the initial announcement.
Even with the lackluster Web traffic on its first day, Covered California shut down its website overnight in order to address a series of technical problems. The website eventually came back online the next morning.
Connecticut Democratic congressman Jim Himes heralded the 167 applicants on the first day for Access Health CT, the state-run exchange. That’s 0.6 percent of the site’s 28,000 total visitors on the first day. After Day Two, Himes boasted about 0.4 percent of the site’s 80,000 visitors having applied.
On Tuesday afternoon, CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen highlighted the website’s sluggishness. Not only did the news network have trouble reaching the Georgia exchange in its Atlanta office, but Cohen said bureaus in twelve other states also hit a wall. “My iOS7 works,” Cohen said in response to President Obama’s comparison of the website’s glitches to those of Apple’s operating system. “This, I couldn’t even sign up.”
“If anyone in Delaware has enrolled in an Obamacare health insurance plan yet, it’s news to state officials,” read the lead of the state’s News Journal three days into the enrollment period. The article goes on to explain that Delaware insurance providers are working to put together paper packets of various plans and scenarios for interested applicants until the website is running properly.
KHON-TV in Honolulu noticed “things weren’t what they expected” for Hawaiians when the state’s online marketplace didn’t actually offer specific plans for purchase on the first day. The marketing chief for the state-run exchange informed the station that specific plans “will not come out to the public until it is ready.” Residents can still submit applications, but will have to wait to see rates and options until after the state puts on the finishing touches.
According to Republican representative Tim Huelskamp, no insurance provider in HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s home state of Kansas has been able to a report an instance of successfully signing up for Obamacare since the state’s federally run marketplace launched last week.
Kentucky’s state-run Obamacare marketplace issued a disclaimer that users should have “no explicit or implicit expectation of privacy” in the beginning stages of the sign-up process. The site warns that “any or all uses of this system and all files on the system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized state government and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign.” After the Washington Free Beacon contacted the site, a spokesperson claimed that the disclaimer was a “mistake” and is intended to warn those trying to access information inappropriately or use the website for criminal actions.
McAfee, Inc., founder John McAfee slammed Obamacare’s lack of security precautions and predicted “millions” of identity thefts because of it. “This is a hacker’s wet dream — I cannot believe that they did this,” McAfee said on the Fox Business Network.
After a tumultuous first day for the marketplace rollout, the CEO of Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America told Fox News that many agents have been suggesting clients delay enrolling in the exchanges. Brokers and agents aren’t pleased with the system, he said, and have privately told him that “if you like dealing with the DMW and IRS, you’ll love dealing with Obamacare.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, the state’s largest health-insurance provider, said that not a single person enrolled on the first day in one of the health plans the company offers through the Affordable Care Act. An executive blamed problems with the federal website; the company says it spent $60 million to prepare for the rollout date.
In Maryland, where Obama spoke of the law’s benefits just days before the state’s exchange went live, fewer than 100 residents enrolled in a new plan on its second day. Maryland officials estimated that 150,000 people would enroll in the exchange’s first year, and had invested a significant amount of resources in what was supposed to be one of the better state exchanges.
MNsure, the state’s online marketplace, announced just hours before the website was supposed to go live that it would be delaying the rollout until later on Tuesday afternoon. The delay came a couple of weeks after a MNsure security breach that released the Social Security numbers and other sensitive information of 2,400 insurance agents in the state who were applying to be “navigators” for the law.
Connecticut saw more than just digital issues: WVIT in New Britain, Conn., found that Access Health CT’s enrollment center in the town wasn’t ready in time. Construction pushed back the center’s opening by a few weeks.
Longtime Montana senator and Obamacare architect Max Baucus made headlines earlier this year when he warned of the “train wreck” the health-care law’s implementation was shaping up to be, and now his state’s residents are feeling a part of it. Users couldn’t get past the first step on the website, the Missoulian reports, and were told to “please wait.”
Aware of glitches ahead of the October 1 start date, Nevada officials postponed advertising its marketplace website in order to limit the number of people visiting the website while they worked to fix the errors.
News 12 New Jersey reports that even after one manages to get through the different stages of creating an account on the tortured federal website, it is all for naught. “Even when that hurdle was cleared, the site never created an account, instead posting messages to try again later,” the TV station said.
Three days into the Empire State exchange’s launch, users are still struggling to get onto the site. A health-insurance broker told Rochester’s WHEC-TV that residents should just wait until next month before trying to enroll for a new plan on the site, saying the glitches will likely be resolved by then.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina says it was able to enroll only one person in a new plan created under the law, toward the end of its second day, according to the Wall Street Journal. A spokesperson told the Charlotte Business Journal on Friday, October 4, that that number “was no longer accurate,” but declined to present a more up-to-date number.
Nashville’s WSMV announced that, after two days, it was unable to find a Tennessean who was able to sign up for a new plan on the federal-exchange website.
While Cover Oregon’s site is technically up and running, Oregonians won’t be able to finish the process of enrolling until later this month due to a bug in the state’s system: The site was incorrectly calculating tax-credit eligibility for residents. On the eve of its launch, officials decided that users will not be able to enroll in coverage until the issue is resolved, but can still explore their (incorrectly priced) options in the meantime.
Not a single applicant was able to enroll in Covered California, the state’s health-care exchange, on the first day “because the people behind the scenes are not trained yet to sell anything.” That’s a bit lower that what Covered California’s executive director projected to the Washington Post a week before the launch, when he jokingly lowballed that they’d get two enrollees.
The Detroit Free Press reports that after dozens “filled waiting rooms” at a Dearborn, Mich., community organization to learn about the law, “nearly every attempt to pull up the website resulted in error messages” on the marketplace website’s first day. The organization director said he would call the unsuccessful users once the website eventually works.
A spokesperson for Washington State’s exchange said that the site’s six-hour hiatus on the first day wasn’t due to high traffic: the site simply wasn’t ready. From about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on October 1, Washington Healthplanfinder was taken down for maintenance after experiencing slow loading times and issues with the application process.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.