The website of President Barack Obama's signature health care law stalled early Monday for about six hours on the deadline day for the first year of enrollment. While experts say major hurdles remain, the White House and its allies are expected to claim victory.
HealthCare.gov, which has faced technical problems since its launch in October, flashed messages that the site was down for maintenance, early visitors complained Monday morning. Some visitors were even directed to a virtual waiting room by a feature that seeks to ease the pressure on the site when the use is heavy, The Associated Press reported.
The website was brought back up shortly before 9 a.m. Eastern Time, according to administration spokesman Aaron Albright, who claimed it goes through "regular nightly maintenance" when the online portal is not expected to be busy. It's just that the off-peak period was extended because of a "technical problem," Albright added.
The site went down at around 3:20 a.m., according to Politico. Health and Human Services officials said it was due to "a software bug."
The site was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, and it increased to about 2 million a day over the weekend.
While the deadline is 11:59 p.m. Monday for the six-month enrollment window, those who are unable to enroll due to problems will be given additional time, HHS has said, adding, "Consumers may also complete their application by calling the call center at 1-800-318-2596. The federal data services hub is working normally."
More than 6 million people have enrolled for healthcare through the portal, according to the government, which had revised the original target of 7 million to 6 million. However, it's not known how many have paid their premiums and how many of previously uninsured have signed up.
It's too soon for the administration to declare victory, experts say.
"We're not really going to know whether it worked or not until the third or fourth year. And of course, that's two elections down the road," Timothy Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va., told Reuters. "What I worry about is that we won't be able to figure out whether it's worked or not until it's too late."
"In most of the country, they've basically done a proof of concept: It can work. It has not yet succeeded and won't succeed until you know that most of the uninsured have been covered and the market's stable, with reasonable growth in premiums," Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, was quoted as saying.
However, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a top White House adviser during the law's development, believes the Affordable Care Act, "Obamacare," is here to stay. "It's the framework that everybody in the healthcare industry is working within and developing their strategic plans around," he was quoted as saying. "Even the opposition, the Republicans, recognize the ACA is the law of the land, and despite the rhetoric, actually accept it," he claimed.