(Photo: Reuters/Stephen Lam
Customers can expect "glitches" for the first few months when they try to sign up for the new health care exchanges, President Barack Obama explained. Some early reports suggest his prediction is correct. As the system went live Tuesday morning, some have had difficulty signing up for the new insurance coverage.
"In the first week, first month, first three months, I would suspect that there will be glitches," Obama said in an NPR interview that was recorded Monday and aired Tuesday morning. "This is 50 states, a lot of people signing up for something. And there are going to be problems. And I guarantee you, there will be problems because we've got precedent. When Massachusetts, just one state, set this up, it took quite a long time. It took several months before everything was smoothed out. Of course, the same was true with Medicare and Social Security and every other social program that we've set up, the Children's Health Insurance Program."
The health care exchanges were set up as part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare." Private insurance companies offer plans on the exchanges for those who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, and who do not get their health insurance through their employer. Depending on their income, some will be eligible for government subsidies to help them pay for the insurance on the exchanges.
Early Tuesday morning, HealthCare.gov, the federal website that helps customers find the websites for their state-level exchanges, was not working. According to Daily Finance, visitors to the site were greeted with the message, "The System is down at the moment," which was changed by 10:45 a.m. to, "Health Insurance Marketplace: Please wait." At the time of this publication, the site appears to be working.
There were also reports of problems with some of the state health care exchange websites and community centers. The Weekly Standard found local news stories from three different states reporting on some of the difficulties. In Minnesota, the website was down. In one town in Connecticut, a community center that was supposed to help people sign up for health insurance had a sign posted saying it would be closed for weeks. And in Oregon, the health care exchange will not be available for weeks.
In a Monday op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Michael Astrue, the former Commissioner of Social Security, wrote that there will be major problems with the computer programs designed for the health care exchanges. At least half a dozen states, including Oregon and Colorado, will be unable to offer online enrollments for the foreseeable future.
Gottlieb and Astrue also warn about security concerns. In September, they noted, the Minnesota exchange accidentally disclosed several thousand Social Security numbers, and the "Navigators" hired to help people sign up for health insurance were hastily trained.
Obama is confident, though, that the glitches will not derail the new law.
"And I am very confident that despite some glitches - right, there may be some websites that, you know, crash early; there may be some call centers where it's taking a little bit too long - that despite all that, the basic prices that are going to be available to people and the choices that are going to be available to people provide us for the first time the possibility, the prospect that any American out there who does not currently have health insurance can get high-quality health insurance," he said.