Health Insurance Markets Open To Surge Of New Customers And Problems

Glitches Hit Websites, Error Messages Rule; Elderly Struggle With Lingo

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The online insurance marketplaces that are at the heart of President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul struggled to handle the wave of new consumers Tuesday, the first day of a six-month open enrollment period.

A combination of high demand and technical glitches seemed to overwhelm the online system early in the day. Federal and state officials were working to address the problems, which led to long waits on government websites and a federal call center.

Speaking Tuesday from the Rose Garden, Obama blamed some of the website slowdown on the fact that more than 1 million people visited before 7 a.m., adding that demand had initially exceeded anything officials expected.

“Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system and within days they found a glitch, so they fixed it,” Obama said. “I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t.”

People visiting the NY State of Health website after its launch at 8 a.m. Tuesday were greeted with error messages when clicking on links to register as individuals or families.

The links for employers, employees and brokers also experienced periodic problems.

LINKS: | NY State of Health | EXTRA: More Information About The Affordable Care Act

“The website went on the blink twice and I just had to abandon it,” unemployed diabetic Shanti Masterson told CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian. “After creating an account I logged onto the homepage. I’m clicking ‘get started,’ error page. Let’s try this again. Homepage, get started, error page again.”

Even employees at a help center on Southern Boulevard couldn’t get past the homepage.

“It’s too confusing. It’s not user friendly,” one employee said. “It’s confusing for us as well, so I can imagine what its like for customers.”

Single mother Carmen Colon said she had so many questions, but couldn’t get straight answers.

“Is it gonna cover everything? What about emergency visits? How much is it gonna cost?” Colon said.

Alfredo Piedra is a medical librarian at the Queens Library.

“The seniors and low income people, they have a hard time with computer literacy,” Piedra said.

The Queens Library is one of dozens of spots set up to help people enroll. There are consumer health sections and employees are trained to take customers through the process step by step

Piedra said you shouldn’t just purchase based on cost because while premiums may be low, out-of-pocket costs could be high later on. Here are some questions to ask:

How much is a premium? How much is a deductible? What does the plan cover?

Masterson said she is hoping her doctor is in network.

“I’m hoping that by the time I go back home the system will be back again so I can try. I’ll call the number also,’ she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health blamed the problems on the 2 million visits to the website in the first 90 minutes after its launch. He said the agency’s technicians were working to fix the problem.


More From CBS New York

Black History Month

Listen Live