Website woes

Jam of the week: “In Haze” by iceage

For the past month, the recently opened healthcare website launched as open-enrollment begins for insurance with Obamacare has been marred with glitches. The opening has brought a lot of criticism, especially from the lack of testing on the website before it was released.

The Washington Post reported that an early test where a few hundred people tried to log onto the website was a failure. That test was done just about a week before the site’s launch. Following that, the site locked up when a couple thousand people tried to access it.

The site’s launch has been decried by everyone from Obama himself, saying he is the one most upset about the slow start, to a Saturday Night Live sketch last week. Marilyn Tavenner, the official in charge of the online insurance marketplace, testified to a House committee on Tuesday on its state. Many media outlets, including The New York Times, ran with the lead that Tavenner apologized for the website not working as it should.

For all of this hullabaloo, I hadn’t actually looked at the website itself until yesterday. In her testimony, Tavenner said users have had trouble creating accounts, logging into the site, error message or experiencing long loading times. As I browsed the site, I experienced several of these issues. The main screen loaded oddly, with the application buttons glitched out so they were below the lower banner. Trying to resize my window caused some lag and had an odd visual glitch to it.

However, once I got into the meat and potatoes of the site, things seemed to go a bit smoother. I entered some basic information about myself, was shown some basic information about plans and got to prices pretty quickly. While the site presents its information well, I’m a reporter and not an accountant. I couldn’t say how the deals on the site would be for the coverage. Still it was easy to access until I tried to log in and create an account. As much as I’d like to say that I had all the time in the world to wait around for the colorful pinwheel on my screen to keep spinning toward a good insurance deal, I cannot.

Of course, this was a simple exercise to check out the website. I’m not one of the 700,000 Americans who have submitted applications to the federal and state marketplaces since it’s opening. That number is according to Tavenner, who also said the site has received over 20 million unique visits. One number that she said won’t be available until mid-november was how many people have enrolled in insurance plans through the marketplace.

An NPR article on Tavenner’s testimony said the experience on the website will be smoother for most users by the end of November. This still gives a month before coverage can begin on plans on Jan. 1, 2014, and several months before open enrollment ends on March 31, 2014. A countdown right on the healthcare.gov front page will tick down to 152 days left to enroll today. Tavenner said in her testimony that she expects the number of people enrolled to be small at first. That makes sense considering the glitches on the site and the relatively far off deadline for enrollment when a penalty can kick in if you don’t have insurance.

Unfortunately, for many people without insurance, the website is not something they simply poke fun at in a column when it doesn’t work well for them. There’s a lot of justifiable anger at the botched opening of the site. Hopefully, in a month, things will be in a better state. If not, perhaps Saturday Night Live’s idea of going to a travel website instead to get a plane ticket to Canada might be a better option.


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