Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

State Health Insurance Exchange Websites Overwhelmed on First Day of Obamacare

Posted by on Tue, Oct 1, 2013 at 11:18 AM

So, I have this great post I wanted to write about the irony of Republicans attempting to kill Obamacare by forcing a government shutdown that cripples much of the federal government... except for Obamacare.

Had Congress given us the federal "public option" we wanted and needed, it too would likely have been caught up in today's government shutdown. But instead, we're getting this subsidized system of private options delivered through state insurance exchanges—state run programs that are somewhat immune to impact from a federal government shutdown. And of course, today is not only the first day of the government shutdown, it is also the first day that consumers can buy health insurance through these state exchanges.

Ironic, huh? And it would make an excellent post. Except for the fact that the website for for Washington's exchange——has been down for most of the morning due to something or other, according to a statement from Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

This morning, we determined that consumers attempting to enroll in health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder experienced slow loading times or difficulty completing their application. While this is not affecting all users, the site was placed into maintenance mode in order to identify and correct these issues.

And by "maintenance mode" they mean the server is entirely offline. You can't even ping it.

I emailed a spokesperson to inquire about whether this is due to a server/software glitch, an unexpected deluge in web traffic, or perhaps a "denial of service" attack? As it turns out, state exchanges nationwide are have similar problems this morning, so either millions of Americans are rushing to check out their insurance options (suggesting huge demand for Obamacare, whatever the public polling), or asshole anti-Obamacare forces are launching concerted denial of service attacks on various exchange servers in an effort to bloody their first day of operations. Or maybe both.

More when (if) I know more.

UPDATE: is now generating an internal server error message, instead of just nothing. So, progress! But still no word back on progress from what.

UPDATE, UPDATE: It's back up online. But it's slooooow, and pages aren't reliably loading. The good news is you have six months to buy a plan, so you might as well just check back tomorrow or the next day, after the initial rush has subsided.


Comments (30) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Hey we will get there will the public option and more, haven't you heard a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. ACA was step one. This is how we do policy in the US hell social security was the same way.
Posted by Seattle14 on October 1, 2013 at 11:30 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 2
The state run Maryland exchange is currently offering over 80 different medical and dental plans.

Make America stronger by making sure you have healthcare coverage, and checking all your available plans and options, and make sure that if you are eligible for a subsidy, you apply for it.

To anyone reading who is going to be getting healthcare for the first time (or simply starting your own plan for the first time), make sure you know what all the terms mean and what services you are going to need most. If anyone has any basic questions about these issues, you are more than welcome to ask me, I have been writing healthcare contracts for years now.

Make your life better, help the needy, and make America stronger by joining the insurance pool!
Posted by Theodore Gorath on October 1, 2013 at 11:30 AM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 3
Krugman points out that the glitches are probably an early indication that Obamacare is going to be fine:
So, very early reports are that Obamacare exchanges are, as expected, having some technical glitches on the first day — maybe even a bit worse than expected, because it appears that volume has been much bigger than predicted.
Yes, there may be some negative news stories about the glitches. But Obamacare is not up for a revote. As Jonathan Bernstein says, the only thing that matters is whether it works. And today’s heavy volume is yet another sign — along with abating health costs and below-expected premiums — that it will.…
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on October 1, 2013 at 11:33 AM · Report this
fletc3her 4
The site is just slammed. Everyone wants to know what the new options are. However, we all have three months to figure it out before any of the plans even take effect. If half the people just wait until tomorrow then the site will probably be fine.
Posted by fletc3her on October 1, 2013 at 11:36 AM · Report this
Indighost 5
The third possibility is that the government web developers just aren't that great and that they coded it full of bugs. I'm a huge obamacare fan but I wouldn't be surprised, government websites generally aren't the greatest.
Posted by Indighost on October 1, 2013 at 11:40 AM · Report this
There's a six-month enrollment window - everyone has until March 31, 2014 to get onto the exchanges. Glitches are to be expected when any new system goes online, especially with the outpouring of public support!
Posted by Pope Buck I on October 1, 2013 at 11:44 AM · Report this
schmacky 7
This is pathetic. How did they not plan for the traffic hit? It's massively important to appear competent and ready for the implementation of this program. Otherwise, teabagger assholes/gullible media idiots start saying "SEEE??? We DID need to wait on releasing this...the government can't even get the website to work!!"
Posted by schmacky on October 1, 2013 at 11:49 AM · Report this
Looks like is hosted by rackspace in MI. Odd.
Posted by ChefJoe on October 1, 2013 at 11:56 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 9
@ 7, how would they plan? Buy a shit ton of servers they won't need after the first week?
Posted by Matt from Denver on October 1, 2013 at 11:57 AM · Report this
Fnarf 10
@5, maybe they're not that great because it's difficult to hire good people when you have to tell them, "by the way, you could be furloughed at any time on a moment's notice if Congress gets their heads stuck in their asses again. Or you could work for free."
Posted by Fnarf on October 1, 2013 at 12:03 PM · Report this
schmacky 11
@9: If necessary, yes. Government has spent far more money for far crappier reasons.
Posted by schmacky on October 1, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Report this
@5 and 10 - The Health Plan Finder website was not made by government employees. The job was privatized out to Deloitte, a nationwide management consulting firm. A $50 million contract.
Posted by c'mon girlfriend on October 1, 2013 at 12:07 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 13

That reminds me of how often I bitch about ORCA whenever the topic comes up. When you refill it, the money doesn't go through immediately the way it would if it were a private gift card or check card. You have to wait until 3 p.m. *the next day* for Sound Transit or Metro or whoever to get around to processing it. And, frequently, they don't actually get it done on time.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 1, 2013 at 12:09 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 14

And, to make it even better, there's no way for you to know if they've actually processed your money until *after* you get on the damn bus and try to scan your card.
Posted by keshmeshi on October 1, 2013 at 12:10 PM · Report this
stinkbug 15
I'd like to know what percentage of the people hitting the site are people who get health insurance through their work and won't need to buy via the exchange.
Posted by stinkbug on October 1, 2013 at 12:27 PM · Report this
Sir Vic 16
@9 Lease extra server capacity and bandwidth for the month of October. Sophisticated organizations do this all the time.
Posted by Sir Vic on October 1, 2013 at 12:30 PM · Report this
Dr. Z 17
So, here's the deal. For many months now the CMS (the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services), the State exchanges, and the insurance payers who are offering products on the Exchanges have known this day was coming, and that it would be a mighty clusterfuck. (See my comment history for the warning about the IT part.) The crux of the problem is that there was just too much work to do to get ready for open enrollment on October 1, and too many details. To cite one small example: the ACA sez (among other things) that you can't lose coverage for being late with your premium until you're at least 30 days behind. OK, medical claims can be held; but what about pharmacy, where you pay cash at the time the service is rendered (unlike medical claims, which are delayed.)

It's those kind of pesky details, times a thousand, that we've steadily been working thru since ACA was passed. Everyone in the industry knows we haven't had time to work them all out. But there's huge political pressure to go live on October 1 come hell or high water.

What I heard (on good authority) was that senior CEOs in the healthcare insurance industry met with Obama administration officials months ago and said that no one - not the government, not the providers, not the states, not the payers - was going to be ready on October 1. The Obama officials said 1) there was no way they'd postpone this because the Republicans would crucify them, and 2) Obama would just blame the healthcare insurance industry boogeyman for any glitches.
Posted by Dr. Z on October 1, 2013 at 12:33 PM · Report this
Goldy 18
@13 The credit is added to your Orca card immediately if you refill it at an electronic kiosk. It's only when you refill it online that there can be a 24-hour delay.

I don't remember the details exactly, but it has something to do with the fact that the balance is actually stored on the card, not just within the system, and there is some sort of exchange of information between the card and the reader. This is so that your card will still work, even if the reader is offline (which you can imagine might happen on a bus). The card readers are then updated daily with instructions to add credit to refilled cards the first time they are read.

I'm not saying one couldn't design the system to update card readers realtime throughout the day (when online), but you can at least understand the design decisions that were made.

So no, this is not a bug in Orca. That's just how it works.
Posted by Goldy on October 1, 2013 at 12:35 PM · Report this
Dr. Z 19
@16: this isn't about something as simple as server capacity. This is the launch of a huge and highly complex new service involving tightly coupled interactions among multiple parties (CMS, multiple states, multiple insurers, and consumers.)

Very few of the people commenting here on this problem have the slightest idea what they are talking about.
Posted by Dr. Z on October 1, 2013 at 12:41 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 20
Yes hurry and sign up for your government mandated corporate insurance plan or face the penalty.

It would be nice if corporations were required to give their employees healthcare, but Dear Leader Obama nixed that for his Wall Street buddies last month.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on October 1, 2013 at 12:48 PM · Report this
Dr. Z 21
@20: the penalty for failing to get insurance the first year is about $96, scaling up to a max of about $700 in a couple of years. And no preexisting conditions except smoking. A lot cheaper than going without and just getting insurance only when you actually need it.
Posted by Dr. Z on October 1, 2013 at 12:53 PM · Report this
ACA Exchanges - One Day - Glitches.

US Congress - 82025 Days - Abject Dysfunction.

Which will be up and running sooner?
Posted by OverSight on October 1, 2013 at 1:36 PM · Report this
Considering that Apple, one if the richest computer companies on the planet, has the same server capacity difficulties when they launch a new iPhone, I'm not surprised that the exchanges are having server difficulties on the first day. And the same stupid criticisms.

"I can't log into this website on the first day while millions of others do the same! This must mean that the website will never, ever work, and I will never be able to buy insurance!"
Posted by Deadmonds on October 1, 2013 at 1:38 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 24
Who wouldn't want to save $6000 for a family each year?
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 1, 2013 at 1:52 PM · Report this
seatackled 25
NY is investigating whether or not the high traffic on their site is sabotage.…
Posted by seatackled on October 1, 2013 at 4:14 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 26
New words for government:

scalable cloud architecture.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on October 1, 2013 at 6:28 PM · Report this
I can't find the plan with the death panels. Michele Bachmann promised me there would be death panels.
Posted by Anastasia Beaverhausen on October 1, 2013 at 7:11 PM · Report this
It's back up online. But it's slooooow,

It appears to be back up, but when I try and actually shop for a plan, I get an error message where the list of plans should be.
Posted by Lack Thereof on October 1, 2013 at 8:09 PM · Report this
New words for government:

scalable cloud architecture.

They actually do appear to be using the Amazon S3 service for this. So they're doing it "right", but it's still broken.
Posted by Lack Thereof on October 1, 2013 at 8:10 PM · Report this
Careful-- there's at least one look alike site called Washington Health Plan finder (same name as the official site--URL looks official, too)--it's an insurance agency, but I know people who landed there today and thought it was the official exchange.
Posted by alion on October 1, 2013 at 8:49 PM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy