Bumpy First Day for New Insurance Marketplace

Heavy interest in enrolling for health care may have overwhelmed the White House website on first day. 

Posted: 10/02/2013 10:53 AM EDT

For millions of Americans trying to log in, the online insurance marketplaces created by the new health care law began with a stalled website, an error message or a menu that didn't work.

But the debut of the new insurance marketplaces might have been a victim of the law's own success. The initial sign-up day appeared to draw heavy interest that suggested pent-up demand for just the kind of coverage now being offered.

Tennessee State University student Sam Rutherford, 31, said he signed up for a policy on Tuesday, some 15 years after a sledding accident that resulted in him losing several organs.

"I've been virtually uninsurable since that time," he said.

In 36 states where the federal government is running the marketplaces, a snag involving security questions on users' accounts cropped up repeatedly, preventing many from completing their enrollment.

Brett Graham, a consultant advising states, called the security questions glitch "a real show-stopper."

"If you can't set up an account ... you can't enroll," said Graham, of Leavitt Partners, a consulting firm run by former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, who rolled out the Medicare prescription drug benefit under former President George W. Bush.

In some states, trained health care guides resorted to old-school means of signing people up: paper or telephone.

Katie League, an outreach and enrollment manager at Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore, used paper applications to register people when the website developed problems. She said she wasn't surprised by the opening delay and took it in stride.

"Today is the start of preseason," League said. "You know, not every quarterback is ready on the first day of preseason."

Officials in President Barack Obama's administration said they are pleased with the strong consumer interest, but on a day of glitches they refused to say how many people actually succeeded in signing up for coverage.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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