Some information was made available. Prices for health plans in states with federally-run exchanges were posted to healthcare.gov late Tuesday afternoon, giving consumers a glimpse at the many plans and prices offered by insurers. But the posting did not include important plan details such as provider networks, deductibles and copays.
The persistent technical problems that consumers encountered were far from the seamless shopping experience described by President Obama, who likened the exchanges to online retailers, such as Amazon.com.
At one point in the day, the overwhelmed website simply shut down.
“We’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible,” a message on healthcare.gov told users. “Please try again later.”
Before the site shut down, users who attempted to create an account were guided through various steps, such as choosing a user name and password. But the process ground to a halt when users reached a page asking “security questions” for the account; the drop-down menu of questions produced none.
Later in the day, the drop-down menu began to function properly, but the site was still unable to register new users, displaying a red box with a message that the system was down.
Healthcare.gov was not the only online exchange facing technical difficulties Tuesday, however. At least 17 states are operating their own online exchanges, and they too reported high traffic in their first few hours of business and problems that kept consumers from signing up.
Maryland’s exchange crashed early Tuesday morning. Minnesota said its site wouldn’t operate until Tuesday afternoon. Vermont said it would not be ready to accept online premium payments until November, and in Washington, D.C., enrollees could not verify their subsidy eligibility.
Despite widespread problems with the state and federal exchanges, though, Tavenner said that some consumers did succeed.
“We can confirm that people have enrolled through the state marketplace and the federally facilitated marketplace,’’ she said.
But Tavenner wouldn’t divulge how many consumers had created accounts or enrolled on the first day.
For Florida, where an estimated 3.8 million people live without health insurance, the exchanges could make an especially big impact. The state ranks near the top of the nation in terms of plan choices, with an average of 102 health plans offered on the federally-run exchange.
Like many consumers who visited the exchange website, Sauvigné of Miami Shores was hoping to find a better deal on health insurance.
He has two pre-existing conditions, takes four prescription drugs daily and currently is insured by Florida Blue , paying what he called “ridiculous prices.” In 2011, he paid $475 a month; in 2012, $536 a month.
Now, the premium is up to $628.
“All of that with a $10,000 deductible,’’ he said. “I call it disaster insurance.’’
Florida Blue is offering dozens of plans in Miami-Dade through the exchange, but Sauvigné could not see any of them on Tuesday because after repeated attempts to create an account on healthcare.gov the security question dropdown box did not work. The “live chat” function failed, too. So he gave up — for the day.
“This isn’t upsetting for me now because I know I can’t start receiving coverage right away,’’ Sauvigné said. “If I can’t sign up today, I’ll do it tomorrow, or the next day.’’