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HealthCare.gov: What works, what doesn't

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Story highlights

  • A host of issues have plagued the launch of Obamacare's insurance exchanges
  • President Obama says "there's no sugarcoating it."
  • Problems include website error messages, faulty information, Internet overload
  • Bright spots include state-run exchanges, clarity on services

The government-run health insurance exchanges have been open for business for 20 days. But a host of issues have plagued the highly anticipated launch, making it difficult for both consumers and insurance providers.

"There's no sugarcoating it," President Barack Obama said from the Rose Garden on Monday. "The problem has been that the website that's supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody."

What's not working

Error messages: HealthCare.gov is plagued with technical problems. The Obama administration hasn't completely released the cause or extent of the problems, likely because they haven't quite figured them out.

But people in all but 14 states and the District of Columbia are having trouble applying for the exchanges because the website isn't allowing them to complete the process.

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"I put in my user name and password, it didn't recognize it," CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reported Monday, saying that the website gave her error messages or said "page not found" or that the system was down.

    Obamacare open enrollment: Here's everything you need to know

    The problems appear to have been worse for those who signed up in the first days the exchanges opened.

    Spinning icon: For others, the website is extremely slow. The spinning icon that indicates that the website is working, albeit slowly, is a huge frustration in the age of (relatively) fast connection speeds.

    Faulty information: It's not only consumers wanting to sign up for health insurance who are having trouble, but the insurance companies that provide coverage are experiencing difficulties with the exchanges, too.

    Insurance companies say the technical problems are causing the companies to receive both incomplete customer information and duplicate applications.

    Internet overload: The White House indicated that the problems are exacerbated because of the large number of people who have visited HealthCare.gov. Obama said 20 million have visited the site since the exchanges opened on October 1.

    While the President said he would not excuse the problem, he said half a million people have managed to apply. But it is unclear how many of them have made it all the way through the sign up process.

    While that's a large number, it's only a fraction of the 48 million uninsured and 20 million who have visited HealthCare.gov.

    Still, as some have been able to sign up, it's not all bad:

    Have you had trouble signing up? Tell us your experience

    What's working

    State-run exchanges: Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are running their own exchanges. Those websites are working much better.

    Many of the states refused to implement their own exchanges in large part because of ideological opposition to the health care law, forcing the federal government to fill the void.

    1-800-318-2596: That's the number to call if you want to sign up for health insurance by phone; by speaking to an actual person. It works.

    Obama said wait times are "less than a minute." Cohen confirmed that receiving help via phone was a cinch.

    "They're terrific. They're very helpful and they answer almost instantly," she said of the call operators.

    5 things that have happened since Obamacare launched

    Navigators: Recent polls suggest that the majority of people don't know much about the Affordable Care Act. A nonprofit set up to help people sign up for Obamcare, Enroll America, said they are seeing changes.

    Justin Nisly, spokesman for Enroll America, said they have nearly doubled the number, from 4,000 to 7,000, working to educate the uninsured about the exchanges and health insurance.

    Information: Before the exchanges opened, the cost and services provided were largely unknown. But both HealthCare.gov and the state-run exchange websites are providing detailed information about what people will get and how much it will cost.

    Time: While the exchanges opened on October 1, coverage doesn't begin until January 1, and the deadline for having coverage in place is March 1, so there's still time to sign up. Officials are recommending people who need to sign up do so by February 15 to ensure the coverage will take effect in time.