HealthDay News — Despite the first federal government shutdown in 17 years and a push by Republicans in the House of Representatives to delay further implementation of “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges opened for business today.
The new health exchanges offer one-stop shopping for health insurance coverage where eligible Americans can compare health plans and prices and choose coverage based on their needs. The exchanges will also help consumers determine whether they are eligible for public health coverage under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
But many consumers reported problems accessing the enrollment websites, hosted on Healthcare.gov, due to the website crashing and other technical problems.
In 34 states where the federal government is running the exchanges, the troubles surfaced early in the day. While attempting to sign up online for insurance coverage, consumers were faced with error messages, were unable to review health plan options or found they couldn’t enroll online.
How smoothly the enrollment process goes varies by state. Officials in Colorado, Oregon and the District of Columbia announced computer system issues prior to the kick-off of open enrollment. People in Oregon will not be able to apply for coverage online for several weeks. Those who want to apply immediately must contact one of the exchange’s licensed agents or community partners.
Jesse Ellis O’Brien, a healthcare advocate with the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group Foundation, said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if other states found their websites weren’t quite ready to go live, either. “I think the key thing is Oct. 1 is a starting point — it’s not a finish line,” he added.
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), assured reporters during a late Tuesday afternoon press conference that the technical problem had been fixed; however, reports of problems continued throughout the day. States running their own exchanges also had problems.
According to estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, some seven million people are expected to enroll in private health coverage through the exchanges in 2014. Another nine million will enroll in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Official numbers on how many people had enrolled the first day are not yet available, but Healthcare.gov received 2.8 million visitors as of Tuesday afternoon — seven times the number of visitors that have ever been on Medicare.gov at any given time, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Consumers will have until Dec. 15, 2013 to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1, 2014. Open enrollment runs until March 31, 2014 for those who miss the Dec. 15 deadline, but coverage would start later in the year.