Washington state’s online health insurance exchange had a rocky start Tuesday, shutting down within minutes of opening as users complained of slow loading times and trouble completing applications.
Tuesday was the first day of a six-month open enrollment period for people to apply for low-cost health insurance through the exchanges, established under the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare).
The Healthplanfinder website launched at 7:30 a.m. and shut down soon after. Users couldn’t access the Healthplanfinder website until 1:30 p.m.
Washington Healthplanfinder spokesperson Bethany Frey said more information about website problems will be available Wednesday, but the troubles were not due to an “overload” of users nor the federal government shutdown.
About 1 million Washington residents are uninsured, and some 130,000 people are expected to enroll for insurance by 2014, state officials estimate.
In Cowlitz County, about 40 in-person “navigators” were ready to help people through the application process at the five Cowlitz Family Health clinics and the center’s nine partner organizations. The clinic had scheduled a limited number of appointments this first week as a hedge against website trouble.
However, seven clients’ appointments were cancelled at the 14 local locations Tuesday due to the website problems, said Amber Rosewood, spokesperson for the Family Health Center. Those appointments were rescheduled for later this week.
“We were anticipating a few glitches, certainly. We didn’t expect (the exchange) to be down the whole day,” Rosewood said.
People can sign up for health insurance by telephone or in-person assistants, who filled out paper applications. Officials said it takes about an hour to go through the process for an individual or a little longer for a family. Thousands of people called the exchange’s call center early Tuesday, exchange spokesman Michael Marchand told the Associated Press.
Officials warned people to protect themselves from fraud and identity theft and report any websites set up to resemble wahealthplanfinder.org.
Several other state exchanges, both state- and federally-run, experienced glitches or lag times due to high user volume. Oregon’s state exchange, Cover Oregon, was also delayed — users can visit a browse-only version of the site but cannot apply for insurance online until at least the weekend, The Oregonian reported.
Joe Titus said he was disappointed he had to wait to enroll in a health insurance plan after the cancellation of his 9 a.m. appointment at the Kelso Family Health Clinic. Titus, 43, has been eager to get health coverage since April 2012, when he was laid off as a drug and alcohol counselor in Vancouver. Titus’ unemployment benefits expired last April, and he’s relied on his mother to pay for his asthma and diabetes medications that costs around $435 monthly.
“It’s frustrating having to come back home and be reliant on a parent to cover every expense,” he said. “I’m looking to just be able to help my mother, who is semi-retired and living on a fixed income.”
Titus said he’ll qualify for Medicaid, which doesn’t require monthly premium payments. He’s excited to get coverage in case he does have a medical emergency.
“I haven’t needed any hospital care, God forbid. If that happens, at least the medical bills will be covered,” Titus said. “That’s one less thing I have to worry about.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.