Technical issues that barred access to HealthCare.gov for several
hours throughout the day underscored the frantic last-minute pace of
an enrollment process that could determine the ultimate success or
failure of the healthcare law that represents President Barack
Obama's domestic policy achievement.
More than 6 million people had signed up for private health coverage
through the new Obamacare insurance markets by last week, surpassing
a target set after a disastrous October rollout called the
enrollment process into question. With daily volumes continuing to
surge, analysts believe the final tally could approach or even
exceed an original goal of 7 million.
"We admittedly had just a terrible start because the website wasn't
working, and despite losing effectively two months, we are going to
be reasonably close to that original projection," Obama said in a
CBS Evening News interview that was taped last week and broadcast on
A successful enrollment would give an important political boost to
the administration and its Democratic allies, who are locked in an
election year battle with Republicans over the future of Obamacare.
"No one expected us to come back from the brink," White House
spokesman Jay Carney told reporters before the broadcast. "But we
have. And I think that merits noting in your reports."
Analysts say the total enrollment is less important than the number
of healthy policyholders in the marketplaces, which have probably
attracted large numbers of older people and consumers with
pre-existing medical conditions, who are costlier to insure. Obama
told CBS that young people, who are generally healthy, were signing
up in larger numbers late in the enrollment period, as expected.
In Houston on Monday, prospective enrollees again lined the
sidewalks outside special city offices in hopes of obtaining private
insurance coverage that comes with federal subsidies for low-income
"It's madness. But it's good madness," said Tiffany Hogue, statewide
healthcare campaign coordinator for the nonprofit Texas Organizing
Project, which is helping with the 11th-hour enrollment drive in the
People also crowded health centers across Florida as navigators and
others trained to assist with online enrollment struggled with
HealthCare.gov's access problems. Compounding the website's
challenges were long waits at a federal call center set up as an
alternative route to coverage, according to health center officials.
"It's been very, very, very busy. But the website issues haven't
been bad, and people realize they've waited until the last minute,"
said Andrew Behrman, chief executive officer of the Florida
Association of Community Health Centers, which represents facilities
in nearly 350 locations.
"What can I tell you? It's like a last-minute sale," he added.
Texas and Florida, whose political leaders reject Obamacare, have
the biggest uninsured populations among the 36 states served by
HealthCare.gov. The remaining 14 states, including California and
New York, have set up their own insurance marketplaces.
VIRTUAL WAITING ROOM
HealthCare.gov's performance on the final day of a six-month
enrollment period was delayed until 8 a.m. EDT after a government
tech team noticed a software bug and extended an overnight
maintenance schedule to deal with the problem.
A few hours later, new users logging on to the federal website that
serves consumers in 36 states were suddenly unable to create
accounts and begin the enrollment process as volume reached what
administration officials called record levels. By early afternoon,
officials reported the issue resolved.
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"Record traffic continues before the midnight ET deadline. As of 2
p.m., HealthCare.gov had more than 1.6 million visits. As of 4 p.m.,
there were more than 840,000 calls to the call center," said Joanne
Peters, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human
She said the day's high volumes triggered the system's
virtual waiting room, a holding page where people can wait to be let
into the website.
The call center volume shattered the previous record of 646,000 for
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services call centers, which
occurred on Medicare Part D's last day to enroll on May 15, 2006.
As enrollment has gathered pace, opinion polls have shown public
opinion on Obamacare sharply split, with the law slowly gaining
favor. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll on Monday said 49 percent
of Americans now support the law, up from 40 percent in November.
The latest data has a 3.5 percentage-point margin of error.
Republicans continued to pour scorn on Obamacare as a mistake that
would harm consumers and small businesses.
"Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law," House of
Representatives Speaker John Boehner said in statement.
"We're achieving something today that I know has our critics
gnashing their teeth," Carney, the White House spokesman, said of
the law's political opponents. "It leaves them with the need to go
back to the drawing board when it comes to other means of trying to
The system's data services hub, which connects HealthCare.gov to
federal agencies, remained fully operational, allowing people
already in the system to complete their enrollment, she said.
The delays occurred as healthcare reform faced a crucial test to see
how many people sign up for new insurance under the Obamacare
Americans have until midnight on Monday to obtain health insurance
under Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or face
fines. The administration has softened the deadline to accommodate
those who attempt to apply for coverage by Monday night but run into
The administration said the website "has handled record consumer
demand well. Over the weekend, the site saw 2 million visits," the
government said, and more than 8.7 million visits during the past
HealthCare.gov's consumer-facing technology has worked more or less
smoothly since December following an emergency overhaul ordered by
the White House. However, there are still some parts of the back-end
systems that remain unbuilt.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason
and Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Caroline Humer in New York;
editing by Bill Trott, Sofina Mirza-Reid, Chizu Nomiyama, Jan
Paschal and Lisa Shumaker)
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