The federal government may have shut down on Tuesday, but millions of Americans logged on to the Affordable Care Act's state-run system of healthcare exchanges for the first time. Public response, however, was so much higher than expected that many users complained of slow service, glitches or all-out crashes.
President Barack Obama told reporters Tuesday that healthcare.gov's glitches were a sign of the site's popularity. He said that more than one million people had visited the federal site by 7 am, far more people than technicians anticipated.
"To put that in context, there were five times more users in the marketplace this morning than have ever been on medicare.gov at one time. That gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans around the country, and that’s a good thing," Obama said.
The president said that the administration was working hard to meet with demand. He compared healthcare.gov to the occasionally problematic launches of tech companies.
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. I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t. That’s not how we do things in America. We don’t actively root for failure. We get to work, we make things happen, we make them better, we keep going.
Other administration officials echoed the president's remarks, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who also used the Apple analogy.
"We’re building a complicated piece of technology," Sebelius said, "and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple."
"We expected a slow ramp up and what we saw today was an overwhelming response that exceeded even what we've seen in Medicare in any given day," said White House advisor David Simas. "So it was a good start. We identified problems, tomorrow is going to be better."
Users reported problems with exchange sites all across the country.
In New York, for example, where officials said they had received more than two million hits within two hours, a glitch prevented many people from moving past the password stage.
Residents in Kentucky, one of the states to create its own healthcare exchange, had problems logging into Kynect.Ky.Gov.
California's Andrew Stryker waited three hours to access his state's Covered California site.
"Obviously three hours is a long time to wait, but it will save me over $6,000. For that, I would have waited all day," he told the Washington Post.