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Obamacare exchanges open for enrollment during shutdown


 

Despite the federal government shutdown, the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces opened for enrollment on Oct. 1.

The online health marketplaces were up and running for just a few hours when complaints starting circulating about glitches. Consumers got error messages and had trouble logging in. And when they did get in, the websites for the various state and federal exchanges ran slowly.

Marilyn Tavenner

A large part of the problem was the high volume of traffic to the websites, federal officials said.

As of late afternoon on Oct. 1, about 2.8 million visits were logged to healthcare.gov, the clearinghouse that serves the federally run marketplaces and links consumers to the state-run online marketplaces. That’s about seven times more users than Medicare.gov has ever had at any one time, Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said during a news conference.

Additionally, the Health and Human Services department received more than 80,000 calls to its help line and more than 60,000 requests for online chats to help enroll in health plans.

HHS would not release figures on how many Americans had enrolled in health plans through the federal and state marketplaces. Ms. Tavenner said that data would be released later, but that consumers were successfully enrolling.

States also reported heavy web traffic. Officials in New York reported that their state exchanges website had 2 million visits in the first 2 hours of operation. Due to the high volume, they posted a notice to consumers to come back later if they had trouble logging in.

"This gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans," President Obama said during a news conference in the Rose Garden.

The president admitted that there have been "glitches" with the enrollment process, but vowed that they would be fixed.

Ms. Tavenner said federal officials had been working throughout the day to correct problems, including adding capacity to healthcare.gov. They also made adjustments to resolve problems that consumers had creating accounts. Some states, including Maryland and Hawaii, had some technical problems that kept consumers from enrolling in health plans on Oct. 1, HHS officials said.

Individuals will have until March 31, 2014, to enroll in a health plan through the marketplaces. However, they must enroll by Dec. 15 to have their coverage begin on Jan. 1, 2014.

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