South Florida consumers reported a second consecutive day of technical problems on Wednesday that locked them out of the online health insurance exchange on HealthCare.gov that is key to the Affordable Care Act.
Wednesday marked day two of a six-month open enrollment period, during which eligible low- and middle-income consumers can sign up for subsidized health insurance through the federally run website.
But many who tried to take a look at the health plans were once again unable to get past the first step: creating an account necessary to verify subsidy eligibility, shop for plans and enroll for coverage. Others who said they were successful in creating accounts on Tuesday said they were unable to access their accounts again on Wednesday.
Officials with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency administering online exchanges in the 34 states that elected not to create their own, said the problems were due to an overwhelming number of people trying to access the website at once, and that they are adding capacity and streamlining the process.
HealthCare.gov received more than 6.1 million unique visitors in the first 36 hours, according to federal officials.
Brian Cook, media relations director for CMS, issued a statement Wednesday saying some consumers had successfully enrolled through the federally run exchange and the 17 state-based exchanges on Tuesday but he did not say how many. He said the exchange call center received more than 190,000 calls and more than 104,000 web chats were requested.
“...While this overwhelming interest is continuing to cause wait times, there will be continuing improvements in the coming hours and days,’’ he said.
Consumers who visited the Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Brownsville, where many of the neighborhood’s uninsured seek medical services, still had no luck registering on the site Wednesday morning.
Paul Salazar, a federally-certified application counselor, was stationed with a laptop at the Trice center, hoping to help people learn about the health reform law and apply for coverage through the website.
He ran into the same delays that many encountered on the first day.
“At first, it was showing, ‘Page not found,’,’’ he said, “and now it’s just saying there are too many people on the site and try again later.’’
Herman Edwards, development manager for the health center, said consumers interested in signing up for health plans through the exchange were being told to come back
“Hopefully,’’ he said, “everything will be smoothed out by next week, at the latest.’’
While many consumers were locked out during the first two days, some got in.
Robert Whitman, 56, of Miami, said he was successful logging onto HealthCare.gov on Tuesday, when he created a user account and answered questions about his income that would determine his eligibility for federal subsidies to help pay premiums and cost-sharing amounts. He also browsed plans.
But Whitman was unable to re-access the site with his user account information on Wednesday.
“It was kicked back to me that my account information is incorrect,’’ he said.
While Whitman said he’s not in a rush to buy a plan, he cannot afford to wait very long.
“I have a real urgency about finding out what’s coming,’’ he said, noting that his wife, Marie, 50, has a history of breast cancer in her family, and that she recently returned from a routine medical exam with a referral for additional exams.