U.S. government scrambles to provide access to Obamacare sites

Reuters

By David Morgan and Lewis Krauskopf

Oct 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Wednesday scrambledto add computer capacity to handle an unexpectedly large numberof Americans logging onto new online insurance marketplacescreated under Present Barack Obama's healthcare reform law.

Technical glitches and heavy traffic slowed Tuesday's launchof the marketplaces, particularly for the federal Healthcare.govwebsite serving 36 states.

Administration officials said they expected bumps andglitches as the national program to provide benefits to millionsof uninsured Americans rolls out under the 2010 PatientProtection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Healthcare.gov website advised users on Wednesday to waitfor pages to load, rather than revisit the website, as theyadded servers and streamlined the system to improve theperformance.

Delays and other problems also continued to plague marketplaces run by states such as Maryland, whose websitecautioned visitors that some steps could take up to two minutesto complete but left users stranded after more than an hour.

Healthcare.gov alone had about 4.7 million unique visits inits first 24 hours, while a federal Obamacare call centerreceived more than 190,000 visits, according to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services. Similar volumes wereexpected for Wednesday.

To share your experience with the online exchanges, see: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ReutersExchanges

Officials and organizers were elated by the large numbers asa sign of the demand for the new insurance plans, which will beopen for enrollment through March 31. But they predicted actualenrollment would pick up slowly and probably peak in early 2014.

"Across the board, the interest is really overwhelming,"said Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, a privatenonprofit group aligned with the White House.

"The fact people are visiting a website or calling a hotlineto get information, that's the first step in a process tocompare your options, talk to friends and neighbors anddetermine what makes the most sense," Filipic said.

Republican opponents of the law have warned for months of a"train wreck" when the new exchanges opened, given the potentialfor technical problems and even security breaches. They seizedon news of the glitches this week as proof the law should bedelayed, a demand that helped precipitate a partial shutdown ofthe federal government.

ENROLLMENT PUSH

An administration official said actual enrollment numberswill be released regularly but not beginning until mid-November.

The White House has also been working to make more Americansaware of the law via the Twitter hashtag #GetCovered.

A major element of the campaign has been a tie-up withcelebrities. Singer Lady Gaga used the #GetCovered hashtag onWednesday afternoon to promote the healthcare reform to morethan 40 million followers, starting a cascade of thousands ofretweets.

Meanwhile, people who need insurance have been finding waysto get around the online glitches.

Luis Veloz, a 19-year-old restaurant waiter from Dallas,could not log onto Healthcare.gov on Tuesday. So he went to acounty hospital to join others in filling out paper applicationsthat should let him know what his plan options are in two weeks.He believes he could wind up paying as little as $25 a month forbasic coverage after federal subsidies.

"I didn't want to wait a second longer," Veloz said in aninterview arranged by the Texas Organizing Project, aHouston-based nonprofit advocacy group. "It's an exhilaratingprocess to be able to finally say that I'm going to have adoctor."

But public patience also showed some signs of wear astechnical difficulties for Obama's signature domestic policyachievement continued for a second day.

Ricardo Mola, a 45-year-old part-time TV satellite dishinstaller with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, said hewas especially frustrated because Obamacare is what led him tovote for Obama.

"Obama has invested a lot of money in this, so I don't seewhy it doesn't work. Hopefully the situation will improve," Molasaid at the Borinquen Health Centers clinic in Miami.

Administration officials said website hits were unexpectedlyhigh and insisted that the federal system was able to workwithout problems during periods of low volume.

Dylan Staley, a junior at Louisiana State University, saidhe was unable to log into the state's federally operatedmarketplace around midnight on Tuesday because of a problemgetting past the security page, a frequently cited glitch.

"It is still surprising that even 24 hours later, the sameissue that people are constantly reporting has still not beenresolved," he said.

Kentucky's exchange, kynect, operated throughout the day onTuesday, but for about six hours was below optimal capacity,leading some users to get timed out, officials said.

"Yesterday, we took very quick action to add thathorsepower," said Chris Clark, kynect's technology programmanager. Officials said the site doubled its capacity for theaccount creation function by working with the state's office oftechnology.

Connecticut's exchange, Access Health CT, was contracted tohave the capacity for 5,000 concurrent users. The site had 1,500concurrent users at its peak on opening day, said Peter VanLoon, the exchange's chief operating officer.

"We didn't think we'd have more than a handful of actualapplications and we had 167 completed," Van Loon said. "Some ofour conservative estimates in the past week - we're blowing bythose in a big way."

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