North Jersey Consumers Frustrated As Day 2 Of Computer Glitches Continue With Affordable Care Act Site

The Record ( — Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Record

Computer glitches continued to plague the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the largest change in health insurance in 50 years, as millions of people tried on Wednesday to get information about the newly created medical plans.

For a second day, consumers seeking information about insurance exchanges from the federal website created for residents of New Jersey and 35 other states met with long waits and messages telling them to try again later. Many were unable to review costs for plans or financial assistance that may be available.

Federal officials blamed the delays on heavy traffic — 4.7 million people visited the site in the first 24 hours of operation — and urged consumers to continue trying. Federal call centers were also besieged with 190,000 calls while 104,000 people requested Web chats with enrollment counselors.

"While this overwhelming interest is continuing to cause wait times, there will be continuing improvements in the coming hours and days," said Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman with the Health and Human Services Department.

The high volume causing delays could be a double-edged sword for President Obama, reinforcing his stand that Americans want health insurance but losing ground if the problems aren't fixed quickly. Republicans have used the law — commonly known as Obamacare — to shut down the federal government and will likely seize on any delays to bolster their position that the law is too complicated to implement.

In North Jersey, consumers were trying to be patient but admitted to being frustrated.

Maria Ferrante, from Rutherford, has tried to get into the website since it opened on Tuesday morning but couldn't get past the login page.

"Sometimes the site will let me put in my name, sometimes I even get to security questions," she said. "Then it shuts down on me."

She said she would be surprised to hear that anyone got through. "I have tried 50 times at least," she said.

Ferrante, a personal assistant, has been uninsured since her company moved her to part-time status two years ago. At 56, she said she couldn't find coverage she could afford on her own — and hasn't been able to find a new job with coverage.

"I just want to look at the plans and see what I can afford," she said. "I don't want to be uninsured any longer. It's too scary."

Few consumers were able to see specific costs and subsidies on the site. Many did get further in the multi-step process than they did on Tuesday, answering three security questions and receiving an email with a link to the system. But after clicking on the link, the dreaded message saying to try again later would flash or they would be disconnected.

Supporters of the law viewed the overwhelming response as confirmation of the nation's desire for affordable healthcare.

"A great hunger and need for insurance benefits offered by the Affordable Care Act was validated today," said Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate with New Jersey Citizen Action.

Jodi Godfrey, a self-employed dietician with offices in Paterson and Hackensack, has been purchasing individual coverage for about $510 a month. Her current plan — while not a bare-bones option — has proven a disappointment and she is eager to see if she will do better on the exchange.

She, too, tried several times Tuesday and Wednesday to create an account.

"At least today, I got a much-nicer sounding message," Godfrey, 54, said.

Some experts say it will take another few weeks or maybe even a month before all the information will be available.

David Oscar, a Fairfield health insurance broker whose company manages health policies for 2,000 small businesses and 600 individuals, said he struggled not only to get on the federal website but also on the sites of the three companies that will be offering the new coverage in New Jersey.

Since those companies have yet to train brokers in the new plan options, Oscar doesn't think he'll be signing customers up for coverage under the exchanges for at least a month.

"I'm not even sure the rates that we've seen are going to be the true rates," said Oscar, a past president of the New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters.

The insurance carriers have been telling him and his colleagues that slight changes to networks and plans are still coming. He is confident the plan details will emerge in enough time for him to advise clients whose policies are due to expire in January. For now, though, "people are calling me with questions and I can't answer them yet, and you can imagine how frustrating that is."

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