You can’t say they didn’t see this coming.
In the weeks leading up to this morning’s historic rollout of a network of state and federal-managed online health-insurance exchanges, Obama administration officials warned that there would be some issues when the websites went live at midnight on October 1.
“We may encounter some bumps when open enrollment begins, but we'll solve them,” said Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.
"We're likely to have some glitches. We will fix them and move on,” echoed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Even the president himself weighed in. In a speech at Prince George’s Community College, Barack Obama predicted the bugs that consumers faced as they attempted to visit the websites. “Like any law, like any big product launch, there’s going to be some glitches as this thing unfolds,” he said. “Somewhere around the country, there’s gonna be a computer glitch and the website's not working exactly like it’s supposed to.”
But they couldn’t have expected the bugs would have been this widespread.
The issues started with the flagship website at HealthCare.gov, where Americans hoping to create an account hit a wall when asked to enter their security questions. The fields were blank. The live chat support product would not load. For some, these issues came after hours of “system unavailable” error messages. Prompted to call an 800 number, they then faced long wait times, with some waiting up to 30 minutes to speak with a live agent.
Many of these complaints are spilling out in full view on the agency’s Facebook page, where a staffer who manages the account is trying to keep up. “We are aware of the issue and are working to address it as soon as possible,” the account told Facebook user Jeff Hoover, a consumer who says he was “really excited about getting health care” and just wanted the website to work.
“I went on healthcare.gov at midnight & tried to create an account but the security questions drop down boxes were empty,” Rahsaan Ball, a Twitter user who spoke with The Daily Beast about his problems, said of his experience. He shared a screenshot he took of the error last night. "We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better," an error message on the site read. "Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!" A few hours later, he was met with another error. " Important," it read. "Your account couldn't be created at this time. The system is unavailable."
On Twitter, the account was informative, but less responsive, also in the face of a stream of criticism.
“Thanks for all your comments and updates as you enroll. We apologize that wait times on the site and hotline are longer than expected!” it tweeted. “We're working to fix these issues as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.”
The website bugs didn’t stop at the federal level. Consumers hoping to shop for plans on a number of state-managed health-care markets also hit error messages throughout the first few hours of the website’s launching.
Kentucky’s marketplace ran an error that noted “tremendous response” and said, “The KYNECT Website is currently experiencing log in issues and our technical team is working to resolve the problem.”
In New York, users saw “SRVEO232E: Internal Server Error. Exception Message: [null].” On Twitter, the exchange explained they have “been having technical problems due to volume,” and “Our dev team is currently working to fix.” In a message later posted on its website, the exchange noted the “overwhelming interest in the NY State of Health—including two million visits in the first 2 hours of the site launch,” that led to “log in issues.” It added: “We encourage users who are unable to log in to come back to the site later when these issues will be resolved.”
Connecticut proudly tweeted, “We're open for enrollment!” But then, a complaint: “I can't open your website yet you just tweeted that you were open for enrollment. Site is down.” An account for the exhange, AccessHealthCT, later tweeted, “We appreciate your patience as we continue to launch our systems today.” And later, some stats: 10,000 visitors in the first 3 hours, resulting in 22 enrollments. “Make sure your browser is updated if you are having problems!”
Before sending consumers in Delaware to the main HealthCare.gov website, they were warned, “Due to heavy site traffic, you may experience delays.” But don’t forget, the account proudly reminded its followers, “you have until Dec. 15 to enroll for coverage starting Jan 1.”
To users who faced a server error earlier this morning, the Rhode Island exchange noted it was “increasing our website capacity so all Rhode Islanders can access today.” When a Rhode Island resident questioned why it was down at 8:30 a.m. but not 9:15, a reporter with the AP responded that a spokesperson said they had increased capacity. An email by The Daily Beast to that spokesperson was not returned.