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Millions flood healthcare insurance sites as U.S. feds grapple with glitches

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 2, 2013
Web traffic was 7 times greater than Medicare site ever saw

The U.S. government's Health Insurance Exchange (HIX) website and its state-run counterparts launched today and were immediately flooded with potential enrollees, causing widespread glitches throughout the country.

As of about 4 p.m. ET, more than 2.8 million people had visited the U.S. Health and Human Service's healthcare website since the HIXes went live at 8 a.m., according to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

CMS oversees the administration of the HIXes, a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The ACA requires all states to roll out HIXes or opt for a federally-operated version of one, where consumers can compare in one place plans based on price, deductibles and benefits.

Citizens who apply for healthcare insurance on the open exchange by Dec. 15, will be able to receive coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Those who wait until after Dec. 15 to apply will receive coverage at a later date.

"In less than 15 hours today, our site traffic has tripled from what we saw when we re-launched in June. What's more, there were seven times more users on the [HIX] marketplace website today than have ever been on the website at any one given time," Tavenner said, referring to HHS's site.

The HHS, under which CMS operates, also posted a warning on its website about being flooded with a high volume of requests.

CMS refused to disclose how many people have been able to enroll in health insurance plans, saying only that "people have been able to successfully complete the application and enrollment process."

Officials admitted to having technical issues with their website that stopped some from enroll ing. The officials said they're continuing to work on those problems to smooth out the wrinkles.

"We're very pleased with progress states are making," Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director for the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said during a news conference at 4 p.m.

"We are making improvements as we speak. What we're hearing from other issuers is that problems are being resolved," Tavenner said. "This is day one of a six-month process. You have until Dec. 15 to enroll for coverage for Jan. 1."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 12 million consumers will buy health insurance in the HIX market by 2014, with that figure rising to nearly 28 million people by 2019.

The overwhelming majority of those using the HIXs will be low-income people, contractors who don't have an employer-sponsored plan or those already insured through employer plans, but whose family members aren't covered.

"About 17 million of those newly insured (those below 133% of the Federal Poverty Level) will receive coverage through an expanded Medicaid program," PricewaterhouseCoopers International (PwC) said in a report released in June.


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