As the much-anticipated new online insurance exchanges opened Tuesday, many users have had to wait longer than expected to sign up for health care due to heavy traffic on the federal website.
For the 36 states using the federally run exchange on Healthcare.gov – including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware – many users came across a message Tuesday morning that read, "Please wait. We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!"
For the other states that are running their own exchanges – such as Rhode Island, California and New Mexico – their websites experienced delays as well.
Rhode Island's new health insurance marketplace – HealthSource RI – crashed Tuesday morning, as it was overwhelmed by visitors. Exchange spokesman Ian Lang told AP that these problems usually occur when any major technology initiative is launched, but officials fix the glitches by increasing the site's capacity.
Once Healthcare.gov is up and running, consumers can shop for health insurance in four steps: by creating an account, applying, picking a plan, and enrolling.
Simply creating a marketplace account is proving difficult due to site traffic, strict user name rules (a capital letter, lowercase letter, number AND symbol are all required), and glitches in the e-mail verification process that forces users to call the phone support number for resolution.
Users can sign up for an account by phone at 1-800-318-2596, which has representatives available 24/7. Consumers can ask questions by using a variety of sources, such as a live chat on the website and by finding local help. Local Philadelphia hospitals and insurers have opened up community outreach centers and have created online resources to guide residents who are shopping for a new healthcare plan.
The insurance exchange is a key component of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, which requires most Americans to have insurance by Jan. 1.