Today, in the midst of the first government shutdown in 17 years, ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges opened for business. And almost immediately, HealthCare.gov, the federal hub of the exchanges, started experiencing problems. The sites for the individual state-run exchanges were also having some trouble.
Thanks for all your comments and updates as you enroll. We apologize that wait times on the site and hotline are longer than expected! (1/2)
— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) October 1, 2013
We are currently experiencing connectivity issues on http://t.co/GpASXcJbQN. Please come back and visit the site at noon. Thank you!
— MD Health Connection (@MarylandConnect) October 1, 2013
This wasn't exactly unexpected. Many states had warned people for weeks that their online exchanges wouldn't be fully operational today. Yesterday, President Obama told NPR, "In the first week, first month, first three months, I would suspect that there will be glitches." He added, "This is 50 states, a lot of people, signing up for something. And there are gonna be problems."
New health insurance plans won't kick in until Jan. 1, 2014, meaning there is still plenty of time for the government to fix any glitches in the system. Open enrollment doesn't end until March 31, 2014.
But conservatives don't exactly feel like giving the White House any slack. For years, Republicans have been railing against ObamaCare and warning about its flaws, which culminated in today's government shutdown. Even before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was claiming it would usher in an age of government "death panels."
So it's not a surprise that conservatives began attacking the ObamaCare exchanges as soon as they went live. Fox News even has a "glitch watch" aimed at documenting the program as it stumbles out of the gate. The Daily Caller seemed happy to share this clip:
House Republicans, many of whom think repealing ObamaCare is important enough to furlough 800,000 government workers, joined in.
— Darrell Issa (@DarrellIssa) October 1, 2013
Of course, Democrats have been just as eager to claim ObamaCare as a huge success. Their main argument? The exchanges are experiencing glitches because they're so popular.
— Connecticut Dems (@CTDems) October 1, 2013
Huge day one traffic to http://t.co/v1f3Ukk4lz. 1 million so far. For the first time, people can compare & choose plans w/out being denied.
— David Simas (@Simas44) October 1, 2013
Obama, speaking at the White House today, claimed that five times more people signed onto HealthCare.gov before 7 a.m. than have ever signed onto the Medicare website at one time.
Both the president and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius compared hiccups in the ObamaCare exchanges to problems Apple experienced during the launch of iOS 7.
"Apple has a few more resources than we have to roll out technology, and a few more people who’ve been working on the system for a while, and no one is calling on Apple to get out of the business because the whole thing is a failure," Sebelius said.
When should Democrats start worrying? If the exchanges are still glitchy in November, writes Johathan Cohn at The New Republic, people may "get frustrated with the sites during their 'beta launch'" and "decide not to come back."
The Washington Post's Zachary Goldfarb thinks even a month is too soon to judge the exchanges.
Everybody is properly tracking Obamacare in 1st days. But we won't know whether it's success or failure for 6 months to yr.
— Zachary A. Goldfarb (@Goldfarb) October 1, 2013
His colleague, Jonathan Bernstein, also took the long view:
For the basic future of the program, only one thing really matters: Does the product work, or not? Not whether Rush Limbaugh says it’s working. Not who hustles out the best stories about broken web pages (or smoothly running encounters). The facts of the situation really are going to dictate what happens. [Washington Post]
In the meantime, yes, you can call a help line or apply for coverage with a paper application.