It’s a busy day for Obamacare. Today is the deadline for open enrollment in the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, including the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, although a recent extension offered by the Obama administration means that people will have more time to sign up if they don’t get enrolled today.
Big traffic has led to a variety of problems today with healthcare.gov, the website used in the 36 states with federally facilitated marketplaces (that includes the Arkansas Marketplace, a federal-state partnership). The site was down completely early this morning and then another glitch popped up mid-day, with some new users unable to create accounts for the first time for the site. Administration officials say the issues are now resolved, but there were probably people attempting to enroll today who won’t be able to complete the process by the end of the day (or gave up trying). The administration anticipated potential bottlenecks on the site as enrollment surged in the final days, citing that as the reason for offering the “special enrollment period” for people unable to sign up by the deadline more time. That decision looks wise today. Given that the use of “special enrollment periods” is explicitly granted by the law, the only ones griping about that particular “Obamacare delay” are those actively rooting for lower enrollment and for the marketplaces to fail. The extension will give anyone that wanted to enroll today but couldn’t an opportunity to do so in the coming weeks. That’s the right thing to do.
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Because of that extension, today’s site problems are unlikely to have much of an impact on the overall enrollment numbers. That said, it brings up ugly memories of the initial botched rollout of healthcare.gov, a mammoth unforced error that probably did dampen enrollment overall. More broadly, there are real people on the other end of these website glitches. While some site problems today are forgivable given the volume, access to health insurance doesn’t do much good if consumers can’t conveniently access the site to purchase it. Anyone who believes in the value of the marketplaces Obamacare created needs to be vigilant about demanding that those marketplaces function properly.
Naturally, conservatives are hopping on social media to chortle and declare “epic fail” and “trainwreck” and so forth. These sound to me like the final desperate gasps of those whose dire predictions of total Obamacare collapse have simply not come true. A lot of political opposition to Obamacare takes the form of hopping from one news cycle to the next, without much regard for the big picture or the long term. Today’s website glitches are a story of course, but will be less than a blip in the story of Obamacare. Meanwhile, anyone hitting a glitch today is someone who wants to purchase insurance; a few months ago, Obamacare critics said no one wanted these products, now they’re reduced to gleeful schadenfreude when fellow citizens trying to sign up encounter difficulties.
The site had been receiving 1.5 million visitors per day last week as interest and enrollment picked up with the deadline (or what turned out to be a soft deadline) approaching, which increased to 2 million per day over the weekend. Today, the site had 1.2 million visitors just through noon (with more than 125,000 concurrent users at peak — healthcare.gov is supposed to be able to handle about 100,000 users at a time). Call centers have also been experiencing record volume, nearly three times the previous highest day, Dec. 23.
More than six million people have enrolled nationwide (this does not include millions more who have gained coverage under Medicaid expansion), but enrollment has been relatively low in Arkansas. The success of the private option, however, has anchored and stabilized the Marketplace (see this post for everything you need to know about enrollment in the Arkansas Marketplace, and the difference between private option enrollment and the rest of the Marketplace).