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October 3, 2013

Glitches plague some state health care signup sites

WASHINGTON — For the second straight day, computer problems continued to stymie online visitors hoping to compare health plans or enroll in coverage on state insurance marketplaces under the new health care law.

Federally operated web sites and those run by states had similar problems, as their computer systems once again struggled to accommodate large numbers of people trying to access the marketplaces at the same time.

The delays, crashes and glitches have marred the October debut of the marketplaces, which serve as a one-stop, online shopping mall for 2014 health insurance coverage required under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which provides the operating systems for 36 state marketplaces, is adding additional capacity to handle the high user volume. Nearly 5 million unique visits and 104,000 web chat requests were logged on the department’s healthcare.gov web site on Tuesday, along with 190,000 calls to its 24-hour telephone call center, at 800-318-2596.

Those numbers “exceeded anyone’s expectations,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said yesterday on MSNBC. “We were planning on a lot of people being interested. We had no idea of quite how many.”

Sebelius said call center wait times had been reduced yesterday, and checks with the system showed this to be true. In separate calls, a reporter reached a human operator in less than 30 seconds.

The federal web sites also performed better yesterday, but in states like Florida, many people were once again unable to get past the first step: Creating an account necessary to verify eligibility for government subsidies, shop for health plans and enroll for coverage.

Florida’s federally run web site had been jammed since Tuesday’s opening, and yesterday brought more of the same. Consumers at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Miami, where many of the area’s uninsured seek medical services, were still having no luck registering on the site.

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