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Glitch: The technical hiccups of Obamacare's first day

A new study says only a fraction of people know they can sign up in October for the insurance exchanges that are key to President Obama's health care overhaul.

“Glitches.” If any single word said it all today, that was it. The long-awaited healthcare exchanges finally opened, and many of them promptly froze. Consumers, reporters and healthcare officials from California to Minnesota to Connecticut tried to register online, or at least check out the options, only to be met with technical problems.

The government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)  said www.healthcare.gov, the gateway to the federally-operated  exchanges, got 2.8 million visits.

Calling the help lines for the paralyzed sites wasn’t too productive  either. Wait times were epic, if you could get through at all. (Here’s a link to one group that’s monitoring the problems.

To be fair, glitches were expected...folks have been talking about them for weeks.

Some were clear ahead of time. Last week, the government announced the Spanish-language version of Healthcare.gov, www.Cuidadodesalud.gov , would be delayed until later this month.

CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner summed up the government’s response to all the problems with this: ‘Consumers must remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

People have six months to enroll. If they want their coverage to kick in by January 1, however, they need to have everything wrapped up by December 15th.

Whether that will require a kind of Tech Special Forces remains to be seen.

But here’s the thing. Even though people rushed onto the sites today, in many places it’s going to take time just to get people moving. I’ve spent three months covering Camden, N.J., watching the ACA roll out, and getting a read on what it looks like on the ground. Camden is one of the poorest and most violent cities in America. People who don’t have health insurance in this city don’t just hop in their cars and drive to some office and enroll. Getting on the bus, making arrangements, getting all your personal affairs in order so you can fill out the forms, is  harder to do here than most places.

The question is, at what point will all these tech problems and delays  start to drive people away. People like the so-called “young invincibles, ” those healthy twenty-somethings who are already a tough sell.  They’re used to getting information on the web, quickly and easily. And, at this point, it’s still impossible to know what a lot of the insurance plans are going to look like.  How big are the deductibles, the co-pays, the networks of doctors.

That’s something to watch over the next few days. 

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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