Users indicate website may be improving
Enrolling much quicker; insurer concerns persist.
On Monday night, precisely at 10 p.m., I logged on to a site where many have unhappily gone before - HealthCare.gov - to see whether the fixes touted by the Obama administration had taken hold.
I chose the late hour because Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said people might have better luck buying health insurance during off-peak hours.
The site's welcome screen popped up quickly. So far, so good, I thought.
And then: "Healthcare.gov has a lot of visitors right now. We need you to wait here so we can make sure there's room for you to have a good experience on our site. While you wait, here are some things you can do to get ready to enroll."
It was like arriving early for a restaurant reservation and being asked to have a seat at the bar.
Consumers across America have reason to wonder whether their "table" will be ready when they log on to the famously addled site.
Though it's still early, anecdotal evidence suggests it may be improving.
Gabrielle Revlock of South Philadelphia experienced a slight glitch when she logged on to HealthCare.gov over the Thanksgiving weekend. She still was able to buy insurance in 20 minutes.
"I did it Thanksgiving night right after the meal," said Revlock, 33, a professional dancer. "I found a plan that worked well for me and is less than I paid before."
Navigators at Resources for Human Development, the main group helping consumers here, are having far less difficulty helping people enroll.
"Overall, we are definitely having more success enrolling people and enrolling them quickly," said Laura Line, RHD's corporate assistant director for health care. "It's not perfect, but it's greatly improved."
Brian Lobley, a senior vice president of marketing and consumer business at Independence Blue Cross, jumped on the website over the holiday weekend and breezed through the registration.
But on Monday, he found the site "hit and miss." "We're actually telling folks that we have had more success using the Google Chrome Web browser," he said.
Things may be healing on the front end, but issues remain on the back end. Insurers are concerned about the persistent mistakes in information coming from the government. Especially worrisome are files about people eligible for subsidies. The industry's trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans, said that problem must be resolved before Jan. 1, when coverage was supposed to start.
"Health plans are still seeing problems with the 834 [subsidy] enrollment files," wrote Clare Krusing, deputy spokesperson for AHIP. "The plans are working with the administration to address these issues as soon as possible to ensure consumers can get enrolled."
For now, the administration is laser-focused on convincing consumers that the website is fixed. By "fixed," the administration means HealthCare.gov is running at 90 percent, error messages have fallen below 1 percent, and the site can help 50,000 shoppers at once.
My wait at the "bar" wasn't long; 11 minutes after signing on and choosing a screen name and password, I had completed the basic information.
I clicked through several screens asking for personal information - name, address, and phone number - and a series of multiple-choice identification questions such as: Are you the Robert Calandra who works at Women's Hospital of Texas? Eh, no.
More questions followed, ending with asking whether I wanted help paying for health insurance. In other words, did I want to apply for a subsidy?
The next screens asked for whom I was applying, my sex, citizenship, Social Security number. Was I Spanish, Latino, or Hispanic, or a member of a federally recognized tribe? What was my race, and was I now incarcerated?
Those queries answered, HealthCare.gov announced that I could buy insurance. Twenty minutes after signing on, I was ready to shop.
The website then offered primers that I could click on to learn more about the marketplace and the metallic tier system. Another noted what each plan must include and warned that lower premiums could mean higher out-of-pocket costs.
I noodled through each metallic tier, exploring different plans. About 50 minutes after signing on, I was ready to buy health insurance.
This article was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health-policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.