President Obama’s health care program isn’t quite ready for its close up.
After more than a year of legislative debate and another three and a half years since it was signed into law in March 2010, enrollment in subsidized health insurance plans through Obamacare began Tuesday. Sort of.
Despite promises that Americans could begin signing up for insurance on the law’s new exchanges starting Oct. 1, in reality, the websites created to help people enroll – which were supposed to function like Orbitz or Expedia – were, in fact, plagued by errors.
The main federal website to purchase insurance, Healthcare.gov, was supposed to serve as a portal for 34 states that chose not to set up their own exchanges, or to do so with federal assistance.
But when I attempted to log in to the site on Tuesday, several times I got a screen urging me to “please wait” and then freezing in place.
When it was possible to get past that screen to attempt to set up an account, the drop-down fields in the security questions page were blank.
When I attempted to move on, I received an error telling me, “Your account could not be created at this time. The system is unavailable.”
My Washington Examiner colleague Charlie Spiering got a little further in the process with a different web browser before eventually getting to a page with gibberish coding on it that asked him to “contact your system administrator."
The states that chose to create their own exchanges didn’t fare much better. Even before Tuesday, Oregon, Colorado and the District of Columbia had said they were delaying enrollment through the exchange websites.
But when I visited the Maryland website on Tuesday, there was a message saying it was having “connectivity issues” that would be resolved at noon.
When I tried to call the customer service number, I was told the call center was having connectivity issues as well, and was referred back to the website, which the representative did not realize wasn’t working either.
Websites in Minnesota and Hawaii were unable to enroll individuals Tuesday morning. When I tried to enroll in New Mexico and Idaho, I was referred back to the federal Healthcare.gov site, which in turn sent me back to the New Mexico and Idaho sites.
My brother tried to enroll in New York and received an “internal error” message. The Washington state website wouldn’t appear at all.
And in California, the login page took so long to load that I was able to leave my desk to grab a turkey sandwich at a local café, and it still hadn’t loaded when I got back. Nor had it loaded hours later.
Connecticut was the one exchange that I was able to navigate and browse plans without problems.
Defenders of the health care law had two basic responses to the problems. One was to argue that the issues were actually a sign of the massive demand for Obamacare.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius even went so far as to call them a “great problem to have.”
Another argument was that the glitches would go away in the coming days or weeks, but that once they got resolved, the program would prove successful.
It is true that opening day problems don’t necessarily prove that the program is going to be a failure and that the program's success is going to be determined in the months ahead.
The benefits don’t actually kick in until Jan. 1, 2014, and enrollment is still open through next March. But it certainly got off to an auspicious start this week.