U.S. Health Exchange’s Stumbles Continue for Second Week

Consumers couldn’t access parts of the U.S. government’s online health-insurance exchange today, after a weekend of technical upgrades failed to eliminate delays in the system at the heart of the Affordable Care Act.

The federal website, meant to serve people in 36 states, was still delivering error messages to users trying to create accounts. While most of the 14 states running their own health exchanges, including California, ran better, New York’s website had problems registering some consumers.

The exchanges debuted Oct. 1 and are supposed to help millions of uninsured Americans buy subsidized coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The federal site has been hamstrung by long wait times and crashes, with President Barack Obama blaming a surge of interest that exceeded expectations. Amid the delays, the administration said it was starting to improve the system.

“The work done to increase access to healthcare.gov in light of the overwhelming demand is beginning to show results,” Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, said in an e-mail. “Call center wait times are seconds, not minutes, and people have been enrolling over the phone 24/7.”

People have been enrolling through the federal site, Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, told reporters at a briefing. He declined to say how many and said the administration planned to release figures monthly, as is done by Medicare, the U.S. health plan for the elderly and disabled.

Technical Overhaul

The federal website was overhauled this past weekend, including adding servers to increase capacity, Peters said. Wait times from consumers have been shortened by half since Oct. 4, she said. The enrollment period runs through March 31.

The state-run exchanges, which have battled their own glitches, also saw reduced delays today. Sites in Connecticut, California, Maryland and Washington enabled users to create an account and start applications without delays.

In Kentucky, almost 7,000 individuals and families have purchased plans through the state’s website, while 209 small businesses have started applications, according to a statement from Governor Steve Beshear’s office. Connecticut’s AccessHealthCT site has processed 1,175 applications since Oct. 1, the exchange said in a statement.

Shares fell for health insurers that focus on lower-income Americans or are selling on the exchanges. Molina Healthcare Inc., based in Long Beach, California, slipped 2.9 percent to $35.63 at the close of New York trading. Humana Inc., based in Louisville, Kentucky, dropped 1.8 percent to $94.71.

“Everyone has glitches now and then but they aren’t down for days,” said John Engates chief technology officer of San Antonio, Texas-based Rackspace Hosting Inc., which helps companies manage Internet traffic. “It can be avoided, the question is, can it be avoided in the context of something as complex and difficult to work with as the federal government and the health-care system.”