Thursday, October 10, 2013

HeathCare.Gov: Software Making it Hard to Get Health Insurance

Many of the 8.6 million unique visitors to HealthCare.Gov experienced difficulty accessing the website and enrolling in healthcare plans. These difficulties were caused by a limited system capacity and issues with the website’s software.

Reported glitches included not being able to access the registration portion of the website and long wait times for access to agents, brokers and the registration pages. The Department of Health and Human Services said that they were able to expand system capacity this week and will continue to do so in the future to accommodate the high volume of traffic on the website.

The issues with scalability occur when there are more users attempting to access the site than the system has capacity for. This is a hardware issue and may be resolved with adding more hardware that will increase system capacity.

One way the government is addressing this problem is by metering access. The idea is only a certain number of users are allowed to access the site at any given time. Any users that attempt to access the site once the maximum user threshold is reached will be put in a virtual line. These users will be allowed access as other users leave the site.

There are also bugs in the website’s code. These bugs are responsible for the error messages that appear when a user is trying to click various parts of the website but unable to do so. These types of issues will take more time to solve because they are more complex than just adding more physical equipment.

Articles Outlining Healthcare.Gov Software and Traffic Glitches:

Huffington Post: Obamacare Website Glitches Reveal Larger Government Problem

USA Today:Review: a winner despite glitches

Washington Post:A techie walks us through's two big problems

Friday, October 4, 2013

HealthCare.Gov: Website Glitches & Alternatives

The open enrollment period for individuals, families and small businesses to select health insurance plans was highly anticipated.  As expected with any new website or websites with high-traffic volume, there were technical difficulties for users trying to access the marketplaces.  These problems are similar to issues encountered eight years ago with the launch of Medicare Part D.  The department of Health and Human Services reported that HealthCare.Gov had over 2.8 million visitors on the first day the exchange opened.  The live chat assistance option received over 60,000 requests as users navigated the health plans and website.  People interested in healthcare coverage also had the option of calling the consumer hotline; over 81,000 calls were placed the first day. 

Reported glitches included not being able to access the registration portion of the website and long wait times for access to agents, brokers and the registration pages. The Department of Health and Human Services said that it was able to expand system capacity this week and will continue to do so in the future to accommodate the high volume of traffic on the website.

As of October 4, the website ( displays a message that explains, “We have a lot of visitors on the site right now” if the site is experiencing heavy traffic that exceeds system capacity. It then directs you to stay on the page to save your place in line. The site will direct each user to the login page in order that they attempted to access the page. The page also offers the phone number for users wishing to speak with a trained representative and apply over the phone.

Non-technical issues with the marketplaces also exist. In some states small businesses weren’t able to use the SHOP Marketplace on opening day. Additionally, the Spanish-language version of the healthcare marketplaces was unable to accept applications for healthcare coverage. There are also expected delays in Medicaid enrollment with federal insurance exchanges and a few states delayed online enrollment for individual and small-business marketplaces.

Below you will find phone numbers to call as an alternative to using the website for enrollment.  Even under high-volume conditions the website’s pages that outline the insurance plans and answer frequently asked questions generally operate smoothly and are a useful resource for determining plans you may be interested in and your eligibility.

Health Insurance Marketplace Information:

 SHOP Marketplace Information:

Healthcare Marketplace: The Nuts & Bolts

On October 1st, the portal for the more than 30 health insurance exchanges being run by the federal government and the marketplaces operated by 16 states and the District of Columbia, opened to the public for enrolling in healthcare plans  under the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Enrollment for individuals and families is open from October 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014. Enrollment for small businesses lasts year round. 

The website features two separate marketplaces to purchase insurance plans. The first, widely-publicized, marketplace is the “Health Insurance Marketplace” for individuals and families. The second marketplace is the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP Marketplace, available for small business employers with 50 or fewer employees.

Available Plans

The marketplaces offer several choices for employers and individuals to choose from. As with all health insurance plans, individuals and employees will have to pay a monthly premium. Employers may choose to contribute to these premiums to lower the monthly costs for employees. Employers that do contribute to premiums may qualify for a tax credit. You will be able to choose from: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Catastrophic health insurance plans. Coverage will begin as early as January 1, 2014. 
The differences in the plans are the price of monthly premiums, deductibles, and copayments and the breadth of available doctors to choose from on each plan.  All the available healthcare plans must cover a specified list of preventative services at no cost.
The catastrophic health insurance plan is only available to individuals under 30 and to some low-income people. Marketplace catastrophic plans cover 3 annual primary care visits and preventive services at no cost. After the deductible is met, they cover the same set of essential health benefits that other Marketplace plans offer.

Health Insurance Marketplace

The Health Insurance Marketplace is the marketplace for individuals and families to purchase health insurance plans. Individuals and families may be eligible for lower costs on monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs, or get free or low-cost coverage.
Medicare & Medicaid: Individuals covered by Medicare and Medicaid do not need to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace and the choices and benefits afforded to these individuals will not change.  Individuals that do not qualify for Medicaid now may qualify for the program in 2014. In many states the eligibility for coverage is expanding to cover more individuals.

Questions about Medicare are addressed here:

Questions about Medicaid are addressed here:

  • At the bottom of the screen you may select your state of residence to learn more about Medicaid expansion in your state.

Health Insurance Marketplace Information:

SHOP Marketplace (Small Business Health Options Program)

The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP Marketplace) is designed to help employers with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees select a healthcare plan. The website allows employers to fill out a single application to compare price, coverage, and quality of plans in a simple straight forward manner that any layperson can understand.  Self-employed individuals will not use the SHOP Marketplace and should instead use the Individual Marketplace.

The SHOP Marketplace also provides information on the small business healthcare tax credit. To qualify for the tax credit the small business must get coverage through the SHOP Marketplace.  The maximum tax credit available is a credit for half of the amount of the premium contribution made by the employer.

SHOP Marketplace Information:

  • Phone number: 1-800-706-7893 (TTY users: 1-800-706-7915).Hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST

Helpful Links