Healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace where Americans can sign up online for health insurance under president Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), has been plagued with technical problems since its launch at the beginning of October. The site has been unavailable at night for more than a week as experts attempt to correct the slew of glitches and long wait times preventing people from correctly creating accounts, submitting applications, and enrolling in health care plans. Though Americans can also sign up by phone or by post, the website’s failures have complicated an already controversial law.
US secretary of health and human services Kathleen Sebelius apologised in her testimony before a Congressional committee on 30 October, taking accountability for fixing the site’s problems. Ms Sebelius stated that the private contractors involved in making the site and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had indicated that it would be ready by the launch date. She now estimates that repairing the site will take until the end of November.
The greatest risk posed by the technical difficulties is that while older people or those with health problems will continue to try to sign up for health care, people who are young and healthy may not. This imbalance could make it difficult for the ACA to offset the costs of insuring those with critical health issues. Obamacare defenders point out that state-based markets, such as those adopted by 14 states and the District of Columbia, have been much more successful overall.
Now that the ACA has launched, the technical problems are not the only issues the administration faces. Critics accuse the president of breaking his promise that Americans satisfied with their current plans will be able to keep them. In at least three states, insurance companies with plans that do not meet minimum ACA coverage standards have been told to alter those plans.
The administration has now extended the deadline by which uninsured Americans must have signed up for a plan to 31 March 2014. Those uninsured after that date will pay a penalty.