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October 1st, 2013 By German Lopez | News | Posted In: News, Health care

First Day of Obamacare Snared by Website Errors

Marketplace website produces waiting periods, errors

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Ohioans who tried to obtain health insurance through HealthCare.gov, the online portal for Obamacare’s marketplaces, on its opening day likely ran into a few problems, ranging from delays to problems logging in.

Before logging in, participants typically go through a waiting period that can last up to a few minutes. During this time, a large message pops up that says, “Health Insurance Marketplace: Please wait. We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!”

Following the waiting period, logging in can become its own challenge. After entering a username and password, the screen often flashes a “Downstream Error,” occasionally joined with the incomprehensible code “E501.”

Even if someone manages to get through the issues and log in, another error message can pop up that makes browsing insurance plans impossible.

The problems aren’t necessarily unexpected — new software often launches with glitches that are later patched up — and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is asking participants to be patient.

“We’re building a complicated piece of technology, and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at a Sept.

30 briefing.

Federal officials also caution that Oct. 1 is just one day of the six-month enrollment period, which will last through March. And even if someone did manage to sign up on the first day, none of the insurance plans begin coverage until Jan. 1.

Once the marketplaces do work correctly, officials promise that they will allow Cincinnatians to browse, compare and select from 46 different private insurance plans that range from a “bronze” plan that costs and covers the least to a “platinum” plan that costs and covers the most.

The plans’ raw premiums are also 16 percent lower than the federal government previously projected, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office numbers. An Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while an Ohio family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan. Without the tax credits, the individual will pay $212 a month and the family of four will pay $768 a month.

Participants must make between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level a year, or $11,490 to $45,960 in annual income for an individual, to be eligible for tax credits. Higher income levels will get smaller subsidies; lower income levels will get larger subsidies.

Anyone interested in the marketplaces can browse options and sign up online at HealthCare.gov, by phone at 800-318-2596 or in person at various locations, including community health centers and the Freestore Foodbank.

Updated: Added more details about tax subsidies in Ohio’s marketplaces.

 
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