Heavy traffic hampers healthcare exchanges

The exchange for the state of New York alone saw 2 million visits in the first 2 hours of the site's launch

Slow load times and error messages dampened the launch of the health insurance exchanges that are the cornerstone of President Obama's healthcare law. On the first day of open enrollment, some visitors to the federally run HealthCare.gov site were warned of system delays, and certain states also reported sporadic access problems.

Industry watchers had anticipated technical problems (see related story, "Expect tech glitches when Obamacare launches Oct. 1"). The launch of the health insurance marketplaces is an enormous undertaking with formidable technical and security challenges.

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Every state (and the District of Columbia) has its own portal, where citizens can browse and buy insurance from healthcare providers. The portals will calculate premiums and potential tax credits based on citizens' income, eligibility for federal subsidies, and other parameters. Sixteen states opted to build and run their own exchanges, seven states are partnering with the federal government in a state-federal joint effort, and 27 are relying on the federal government to operate their exchanges.

Oct. 1 is the first day citizens can enroll in a health insurance plan, although coverage doesn't begin until January 2014. The delay in coverage had led most pundits to predict that the marketplaces wouldn't experience a flood of enrollments on the first day.

But it seems expectations of a soft launch were incorrect.

Some visitors to the federally run exchanges, which are accessed through the HealthCare.gov site, received a message like this: "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 log-in page. Thank you for your patience."

In addition, a number of individually-run state sites were grappling with technical issues as of midafternoon on Tuesday. Here's a rundown of some of the problems:

  • New York state's marketplace, NY State of Health, is greeting visitors with this message: "Due to overwhelming interest in the NY State of Health -- including 2 million visits in the first 2 hours of the site launch -- the health exchange is currently having log in issues. We encourage users who are unable to log in to come back to the site later when these issues will be resolved."
  • At Maryland Health Connection, individuals searching for plan information are being told: "We are currently experiencing a high volume of users on MarylandHealthConnection.gov and we want to ensure that the experience is positive for everyone. Please be patient if the website is operating slowly or you experience any delays. We apologize for the inconvenience.
  • Kentucky residents, who'll shop at KYNECT, are greeted with: "Commonwealth of Kentucky citizens have shown tremendous response to KYNECT since we established our marketplace. The KYNECT Website is currently experiencing log in issues and our technical team is working to resolve the problem. While we work on resolving the problem please browse the KYNECT website to view Medicaid offerings, Health Insurance Plans, and other useful information. Thank you for your patience and continued support."

Ann Bednarz covers IT careers, outsourcing and Internet culture for Network World. Follow Ann on Twitter at @annbednarz and reach her via email at abednarz@nww.com. Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

This story, "Heavy traffic hampers healthcare exchanges" was originally published by NetworkWorld .

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