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    Obamacare's Websites Are Still Broken

    Written by

    Daniel Stuckey


    Image via Flickr

    Now one day deep into the launch-of-Obamacare-government-shutdown debacle, signing up for a health plan under the Affordable Care Act is no less challenging than it was yesterday.

    While plenty of people have been able to get through to their state's site via healthcare.gov's portal, and some have been able to setup up accounts to begin the e-shopping process (myself included), many have hit a wall of internal server errors.

    A friend of mine in Seattle, Joshua Powell, who is unemployed and sick in bed, told me he has already spent 10 hours trying to make it through the process. I saw his status in my Facebook newsfeed last night containing a thorough testimonial of his affair with Washington State's health plan finder website, where he's made little headway beyond retrieving his login and trying to place things in an online shopping cart. When I asked him to elaborate on his experience, he wrote:

    I've set up an account and can get to the page that compares plans—that took probably 3-4 hours. There are 38 plans available to me. It shows five plans at a time sorted by premium. It gives you the option to filter by premium, deductible, oop, insurance company, 'metal level', HSA, PPO v MMO.

    If I try to filter or compare plans, or even if I click 'next' to see the next five plans the site freezes for anywhere between 1-20 minutes and continues to log me out.

    So, I can't really choose a plan cause I can't even see them all. I also need to figure out what the deal with subsidies is—that information is nowhere on the site that I can see.

    I expect figuring out the tax subsidy will be a relief, but, really it seems like the old 'after mail-in rebate' trick.

    On a press call with Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) yesterday afternoon, there were many questions from the press about the design of the marketplace infrastructure, and whether or not this amount of traffic had been considered in tests leading up to the deployment. "We're very thrilled," the spokespeople recapitulated time and again, "with the response we've seen."

    On the same call, members of the press were told that the Center would release enrollment statistics and data as soon as there was a neat way of pulling the data. Expecting another operations update and press call today, I reached out to the organization this morning, who answered with some new numbers about the amount of traffic the portal, healthcare.gov has seen. I'll give it to you verbatim:


    Americans successfully enrolled through HealthCare.gov and State-based Marketplaces on Day 1.  Volume at HealthCare.gov continues to be high, with 4.7 million unique visits in the first 24 hours, our call center receiving more than 190,000 calls, and more than 104,000 web chats requested.  We expect to see similar volume as yesterday, and while this overwhelming interest is continuing to cause wait times , there will be continuing improvements in the coming hours and days.

    Consumer tips:

    - When you go to healthcare.gov, you may see a “holding page” for a few minutes before you enter the application process. If you're at the holding page, do not refresh your browser or leave the page, as you'll lose your place in line.

    - You have until December 15 to sign up before coverage begins January 1, and 180 days left to enroll in coverage.


    - The slowdowns in the system are due to high volume. CMS is adding capacity and streamlining the system to improve performance.

    - The security question drop down menu issue is a result of the high volume, not a programming glitch. 

    - Many users have completed this step and the application process and are able to shop and enroll.

    - Call center wait times have been significantly improved.

    In the Rose Garden yesterday afternoon, President Obama created a media laugh-track after comparing the Affordable Care Act's glitchy launch to Apple's iOS7 first few days. Although, he assured the group that if the software giant could produce a fix within a couple days, the government could and would too.

    With unprecedented amounts of web traffic amidst a continued congressional blame game over the government's shutdown, it looks as though patience—as is a historic norm of all healthcare-related paperwork—is of the essence. Yesterday I compared trying to get Obamacare with trying to get the new iPhone. But I stand corrected. For the time being, it's looking even harder.