HealthCare.gov handles busiest day to date
CHICAGO — The government's retooled health care website was put to its biggest test yet as record numbers of Americans rushed to beat Tuesday's extended deadline for signing up for insurance.
Since its disastrous, glitch-filled rollout in October, HealthCare.gov — where people in 36 states can shop for coverage — received 2 million visits on Monday — its highest one-day total, the government said.
Traffic was not as heavy on Tuesday but still high, White House spokeswoman Tara McGuinness said. She had no immediate estimate of visitors or how many succeeded in obtaining insurance before the midnight deadline.
“The site is performing well under intense consumer traffic,” said Kurt DelBene, a former Microsoft executive appointed last week to take over management of the online marketplace. “With the highest volumes we have seen to date, response time is fast and the error rating is low.”
Error rates were lower than 1 in 200, and pages loaded quickly, in less than a half-second, officials said.
For many reasons, including technical difficulties with the site or trouble understanding the instructions, thousands of people sought telephone help and wound up waiting on hold on Christmas Eve at the government's call center.
Ian Stewart of Salt Lake City said he and his wife, both students, had been trying for weeks to complete their application on the federal site, thwarted by computer error messages each time.
On Tuesday morning, while visiting relatives in Colorado for Christmas, they reached a call center counselor who succeeded in enrolling them. The “silver” plan they chose will cost them $241 a month after a cost-lowering tax credit.
“We're relieved that we got it working, elated that we got insurance again and very frustrated that it took this long,” Stewart said.
More than 110,000 people had called the government's help line by Tuesday afternoon, with wait times averaging 27 minutes, officials said. On Monday, the call center received more than 250,000 calls, a one-day record.
Monday was the sign-up deadline for people wanting coverage at the start of the new year. But the Obama administration pushed back the deadline a day to deal with heavy traffic from procrastinators.
“We see this intense traffic as a sign that people are eager for affordable health insurance,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency in charge of the overhaul.
While there were no immediate reports of any major glitches, the White House said that people who can show they missed the deadline because of problems with the website may still be able to get covered by Jan. 1 on a case-by-case basis. Anyone else can still apply for coverage that would start on Feb. 1.
The one-day grace period was the latest in a string of delays and reversals, and critics of President Obama's signature program seized on it as more evidence that the overhaul is in trouble.
“The amazing, ever-expanding deadline? It's clearly a sign of desperation by the administration to do everything they can to increase the number of people signing up,” said health economist Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare for President George H.W. Bush.
The website went through extensive hardware and software upgrades to make it more reliable and increase its capacity.
When the number of simultaneous users reached 60,000 on Monday, site operators employed a queuing system that allowed people to either wait or give an email address to be invited back later, the government said. More than 129,000 users gave their email.
On Tuesday, traffic wasn't heavy enough to trigger the system, McGuinness said in the afternoon.
Many states operate their own online marketplaces for buying coverage, and some of them extended their deadlines.
The insurance industry, too, has pushed back deadlines for payment, with most health plans allowing customers to pay by Jan. 10 and still get coverage retroactive to Jan. 1.
“With deadlines that keep changing, insurers want to alleviate confusion,” said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans. “Health plans are going to do everything they can to help consumers with the enrollment process.”
Obama said late last week that more than 1 million Americans had enrolled for coverage since Oct. 1.
The administration's estimates call for 3.3 million to sign up by Dec. 31, and the target is 7 million by the end of March. After that, people who fail to buy coverage can face tax penalties.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- ‘12 Days of Christmas’ items top $34K, up 0.6 percent
- Pot doctors in medical marijuana states push boundaries with marketing
- New Navy destroyer Zumwalt’s seaworthiness questioned before sea trials
- Upstate New York town threatened by Arizona man in online post, reports say
- Iraq War veteran, mother of 2 slain in Colorado clinic rampage
- Hunt on for mother of baby buried alive in California
- Storm lingers in southern Plains
- Email address gives FBI lead on record theft of user IDs, passwords
- Feds tell railroads they must meet deadlines for lifesaving technology
- Foreign policy expert: Obama administration should create Syria safe areas
- Poor roads cost Connecticut motorists $5.1B annually, report finds