Heavy Internet traffic and system problems plagued the launch of the new health insurance exchanges Tuesday morning.
Consumers attempting to log on were met with an error message early Tuesday due to an overload of Internet traffic.
The message read: "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 log-in page. Thank you for your patience!"
The delay was as long as four minutes at 7:10 a.m.
That wasn't the end of the problems. Once logging into the exchange, a list of required security questions were left blank, and an attempt to reload the page was met with another error message: "The system is down at the moment. We're working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later."
Another attempt at 7:30 a.m. was met with another error: "Important: Your account couldnt (sic) be created at this time. The system is unavailable."
A chat function designed to help answer consumer questions also timed out after a 10-minute wait for an agent.
A government spokeswoman didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.
An Illinois landing page, GetcoveredIllinois.gov, which directs consumers to either the federal exchange website or a separate state portal for enrolling in an expanded Medicaid program, was operating without issues.
Even with the early hiccups on the federal enrollment site, President Barack Obama's health care law launched Tuesday despite a government shutdown brought on by an argument about its future.
In Illinois, officials said more than 1.6 million people in the state can now begin the process of determining whether they're eligible for government subsidies.
They'll get to choose from among 162 plans offered by six insurers through the Illinois exchange, which can be found at healthcare.gov. Deputy Gov. Cristal Thomas said a call center staffed with operators who will walk consumers through the law and answer enrollment questions should open at 8 a.m.
To be covered by Jan. 1, people need to sign up and pay for their first month of coverage through the exchanges by Dec. 15. Open enrollment continues through March 31. Those who do not have health insurance in 2014 must pay a tax penalty, starting at $95 per individual or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater.
The federal website for enrolling in health coverage went live at 7 a.m Central time today, allowing consumers to begin signing up for plans
Officials in most states that are running their own online insurance marketplaces are open for business today, as well as call centers set up to handle consumer questions through the government's (800) 318-2596 hotline.
"The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place. You can't shut it down," Obama resolutely informed his Republican opponents in a televised statement at the White House on Monday.
The launch marks a milestone for Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, which aims to provide subsidized healthcare to millions of the uninsured, the most ambitious U.S. social program since Medicare was introduced in the 1960s.
The marketplaces, or exchanges, require health plans to provide a broad range of essential benefits that were not necessarily part of individual policies in the past, including mental health services, birth control and preventive care. The coverage is linked to other insurance market reforms and new consumer safeguards including a ban on discrimination based on gender and health history.
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