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Obamacare: 'Overwhelmed' exchanges add to confusion as rollout hits hiccups

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The federal health insurance marketplace website crashed this morning under the strain of the program's launch.
The federal health insurance marketplace website crashed this morning under the strain of the program's launch. - (NJBIZ)

Technical glitches marked the rollout of online shopping exchanges, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that takes effect today.

Annette Catino, chief executive of QualCare, a Piscataway-based managed care company, said her team was having trouble logging on to the exchanges this morning.

The home page at healthcare.gov was accessible, but attempts to enroll with specific information were frequently stalled with indefinite wait times because of heavy traffic. Delays appear to have shortened as the day has gone on.

"Clearly, everyone was expecting initial bumps and that's what we're seeing: initial bumps," Catino said.

Government officials have warned for weeks that technical glitches would likely accompany rollout of online health care exchanges.

Despite that, John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, said his group had received assurance by the federal Department of Health and Human Services that exchanges would be operating smoothly.

"The exchanges are operational, but apparently overwhelmed," Sarno said.

Sarno is concerned that that government shutdown taking effect today could worsen matters. He cited an email EANJ received from HHS notifying that because of reduced staff, informational meetings explaining the new law would be canceled until further notice.

"The ongoing education is clearly going to be impacted by the furloughs because there is no one there to do that," Sarno said.

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Effective today, online exchanges allow for uninsured individuals and families to purchase insurance as well as an option for small businesses currently not covering employees to purchase coverage for their workers.

Actual coverage does not begin until Jan. 1. The enrollment period ends March 31.

Small businesses that employ fewer than 50 are not required to offer coverage under the new law, though such businesses were required to inform employees of their rights under the ACA. The businesses themselves could purchase coverage for employees through the Small Business Health Options, or SHOP, program with the aid of tax credits.

Laurie Ehlbeck, New Jersey state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said she had yet to hear feedback today regarding the operability of the exchanges, though confusion persists about the law in general. She said it will take several weeks or more until employers sort out details.

"What I'm hearing is uncertainty," Ehlbeck said. "No one knows how it's going to work or how expensive it's going to be."

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