Financial advisers keeping an eye on the health insurance exchanges gave them a test drive this morning, only to find out a number of marketplace sites are plagued with bugs and long loading times.
Oct. 1 marks the open-enrollment date for the state and federal insurance exchanges that are an essential part of the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges allow individuals to shop for health insurance within their state, selecting from four levels of coverage that vary according to how much of the cost of service is shared by the plan: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The exchanges are open for enrollment, despite the fact that the federal government has been shut down.
Advisers have been eyeing the exchanges as a way to get coverage for clients who decide to retire before Medicare eligibility or for those who are leaving a 9-to-5 life to become freelancers. Signing up for coverage today, though, has been difficult on account of thousands — and in some cases, millions — of hits to state exchange websites.
“The main thing was the website crashing,” said Carolyn McClanahan, an adviser at Life Planning Partners Inc. “You could create an account some of the time [on Florida's federally run exchange], but once you log in to buy insurance, it doesn't go anywhere. I think the system is truly overwhelmed, and people are waiting to see what the prices will be.”
Indeed, the websites for New York's health insurance exchange and for Covered California, both state-run marketplaces, experienced large amounts of traffic. On Tuesday morning, visitors to the Empire State's website came across a message that said the site received 2 million hits within hours of opening. Visitors were encouraged to come back to the New York marketplace's site when traffic abated.
That message was down, and the login page appeared to be working later in the afternoon.
Covered California, the Golden State's insurance marketplace, still had some website trouble Tuesday afternoon, with a Start Here button leading to a new page that wouldn't load.
The website glitches were expected. “Think about tickets for Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney going on sale, and the website is loaded with people who want to buy,” said Paul Fronstin, director of the health research and education program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Consumers and advisers shouldn't be surprised if they find websites that aren't properly populated or if they discover that the income values they're plugging into the websites can't be verified.
“Putting aside the kinks, the fact is that you don't have to worry about pre-existing conditions and that your premiums are capped as a percentage of income if you are below poverty level,” Mr. Fronstin added. “Every state is different in terms of its preparedness, and I think a lot of the websites are going to be crude at this point.”
Katy Votava, president of Goodcare.com, a healthcare consultancy for financial advisers, noted that advisers and clients shouldn't be deterred by the exchanges' bumpy start. Coverage begins Jan. 1, and there's still plenty of time to shop.
“The system is going to be overloaded, but you should pull together your information on the medications you take, and your list of doctors and hospitals — and in the next few days and weeks, these sites will work better,” Ms. Votava said. “Encourage your clients to shop early; do it before Thanksgiving.”