Jaime McKee, a recently laid-off web developer in North Carolina, thought shopping for health insurance on Obamacare’s online exchange would be as easy as pulling up a website while her 2-year-old son ate breakfast.
“I clicked on it, and I was like, oh, it looks like it will be a really simple, fast registration,” McKee said. But instead, she spent two hours on Oct. 1 trying to create an account on www.healthcare.gov. Responses ranged from a message stating the site was clogged with traffic to a screen with plain-text jibberish.
“It’s just question marks all over the page,” said McKee, who is shopping for insurance while also looking for a new job. The third day after the exchanges opened, she still hadn’t been able to log on to the site. She called a help line, only to be told she was experiencing a “common problem.”
The healthcare.gov site received more than 7 million unique visitors during its first two days online, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported Friday. DHHS has not yet said how many people have created accounts on the site or enrolled in health insurance plans. The healthcare.gov team responded to numerous complaints on Twitter about the site’s performance by stating repeatedly they were “adding capacity to streamline the system.”
The Obama administration reports some of the visitors have successfully signed up using the federal marketplace, but it took reporters two days to find one. The Washington Post reported trouble finding an enrollee before finally locating one Thursday in Georgia. WORLD and other organizations have had trouble locating any others.
The government shutdown appeared to have little impact on the health insurance exchange’s operations. In its contingency staffing plan, DHHS noted that most Affordable Care Act functions received mandatory funding not dependent on Congress passing an annual budget.
McKee hopes in the coming days she can access the site and analyze the insurance plans available to her and her son. She was laid off from the local newspaper in Asheville, N.C., on Aug. 21. She said the loss of her employer-provided health insurance was the first concern on her mind after hearing about her termination. She still has insurance because of COBRA, a law requiring companies to extend coverage to former employees under certain circumstances. Her employer will pay a portion of premiums until Oct. 31. After that, her premiums would increase from about $274 to $785 a month.
“Who could afford that without a job?” she asked, adding it would cost $799 per month to add her and her son to her husband’s employer-provided health insurance.
Though she is actively looking for new employment, she is not counting on her new job to provide health insurance. Many of the jobs for which she has applied are at small businesses that don’t offer coverage. Meanwhile, she continues to try to log on to healthcare.gov to assess her options.
“If I can get onto the website it really might benefit me, but I don’t know if it will or not,” she said.