George Sauvigné, a 61-year-old real estate agent from Miami Shores, waited almost three years for Tuesday to arrive — the day when government officials would unveil the centerpiece of the healthcare reform law known as the Affordable Care Act: online exchanges offering subsidized health insurance plans in every state.
But Tuesday didn’t go exactly as planned for Sauvigné and countless others. After several unsuccessful attempts to create an account on Florida’s federally-run exchange at healthcare.gov, Sauvigné realized he’ll have to wait for the computerized system to be fixed before he can shop for a health plan that will no longer be able to exclude him for having a pre-existing medical condition, potentially saving him hundreds of dollars a month in premiums.
“Medical care has been getting crazier and crazier over the years,’’ he said. “I want lower rates and better options.’’
How long will Sauvigné have to wait?
That’s anybody’s guess, as widespread technical problems rendered the website useless for the many who tried to shop for health plans on the first day.
Though government officials said the website’s problems had been fixed, as of Tuesday night many were still unable to get past the first step: creating an account necessary to shop for health plans and enroll for coverage, which will be subsidized for eligible low- and middle-income families.
Officials with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency administering online exchanges in 34 states that elected not to create their own, attributed the technical problems to an overwhelming number of people trying to access it at once.
During a Tuesday press conference to address the government shutdown triggered by a political standoff over the health reform law also known as Obamacare, President Obama said more than one million people had accessed the site before 7 a.m.
About three hours later, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the number had gone higher: “More than 2.8 million people have visited healthcare.gov since midnight.’’
Tavenner gave no explanation for the website’s technical problems other than citing an overwhelming number of visitors in a short time. And though, during a conference call with reporters, she insisted that the glitches had been fixed, healthcare.gov continued to exhibit the same problems several hours later.
Tavenner and other federal officials emphasized that initial glitches are to be expected with an unprecedented rollout of such large technological magnitude, and they noted that a majority of Americans — about 85 percent — do not need to shop for plans on the online exchanges because they already receive some form of health insurance, either through an employer-provided plan or a government program such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Federal officials also noted that the enrollment period runs through March 31, though consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage to begin Jan. 1. And they pointed consumers to other resources: as a toll-free number with live operators offering assistance in 150 languages, a live chat function on the online exchange and a network of in-person assistors to help people through the process.
But none of those resources could help consumers consider the hundreds of plans available in Florida, verify eligibility for premium subsidies or enroll for coverage on the choked-up, online exchange also called an insurance marketplace.