Is the government's website ready to take on the final surge of heavy traffic prior to the Dec. 23 deadline? The prognosis doesn't appear to be so good.
President Obama, speaking in Friday’s end-of-the-year press conference, was kept busy dodging several questions from reporters on his declining poll numbers throughout 2013 – much of it the result of the dicey rollout of HealthCare.gov. And while he acknowledged the bungled debut, the President tried to focus as much as possible on staying positive.
According to Obama, more than 1 million Americans have enrolled for health insurance through the federal government’s Marketplace website since the Oct. 1 rollout. However, severe system malfunctions caused difficulties for the vast majority of users, rendering the website almost completely unusable during the month of October. Minor improvements came in November, and by the end of the month, 365,000 individuals had signed up for health insurance (that’s 0.001% of the U.S. population, for those of you keeping score at home).
Within the first three weeks of December, however, enrollment numbers tripled. Additionally, officials state that another 3.9 million people have qualified for coverage under state Medicaid expansions. But even so, Obamacare still more closely resembles a clunky leviathan being crushed by its own weight than a well-oiled machine. This weekend, in particular, will prove to be a real test of the success of the website, as it is expected to receive very heavy traffic in anticipation of the Dec. 23 deadline for enrollment.
As one of several millions of Americans eligible for purchasing a plan through the exchange, I can offer some personal anecdotes on my experience with the website. There was, of course, the initial frustration of getting a steady stream of error messages when attempting to access the website in October. Somehow, I do think I fared better than most people, as I managed to at least set up my profile that same month. No luck seeing any insurance plan options, though.
During November, I spent a great deal of time comparing plans and seeing what would be best for me (this was further complicated when I realized that most of these plans did not include dental coverage, which had to be purchased separately). Having assessed my health needs, I knew more or less what I was looking for in terms of coverage, but I do like to make informed decisions. Fortunately, the fact that the website was down for “scheduled maintenance service” at least one-third of the times I attempted to access it allowed me to mull over my options even further over my morning cappuccino.
Knowing that Monday’s enrollment deadline was now fast approaching, I went back to the website Thursday night to make my final selection and become officially enrolled. I was once again greeted by the familiar “scheduled maintenance service” page, and so I left it on the backburner until Friday. But – as many individuals seeking to enroll in these last few days surely noticed – the website was still down until sometime in the early afternoon. I did choose the option to be emailed by the system once the website was back up and running, but that email never came; fortunately, I decided to go back to the site and check on it myself. And, upon seeing that it was now available, I made haste to enroll before this weekend’s expected heavy user traffic sends the site into disarray once more.
And finally, having made my selections and having completed the enrollment process, I was asked to make my initial payment ($238 per month for a reasonably healthy 26-year-old male in Virginia – more than twice what I pay for my soon-to-be defunct 2013 individual plan, though granted, the exchange plan has more comprehensive benefits). Though of course, upon attempting to do so, I came face-to-face with a 404-error message.
What can I say? At the very least, I know I won’t have to trip all over myself in trying to enroll over what may very well be a disastrous weekend for Healthcare.gov. And I suspect that, one way or another, I’ll be able to make my initial payment prior to the January 1 start date for my new insurance policy. But the journey from October to today has been rocky, to say the least, and we have yet to discover what other surprises await us in the continued implementation of Obamacare.
Here’s to a happy and healthy new year. Or so I hope.
Alberto González is the Associate Editor of Aleteia’s English edition.