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Saturday, October 22, 2016

by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica.

After a glowing news conference yesterday citing “night and day” progress on, I decided to log in this morning and take the website for a test drive, as I’m sure many others are doing. Early reports had been promising. What I found was hardly encouraging — long delays on loading pages, an endless circle of tasks (some already completed) and ultimately an error message.

The load-time issues (sometimes more than a minute) reminded me of the problems users encountered in the very first days of the website, which handles health insurance enrollment for residents of 36 states. It also appears to contradict what Health and Human Services officials said had been fixed.

“Response times are under 1 second. Error rates are down well under 1 percent. And the system is stable, with uptimes exceeding 90 percent,” HHS bragged in a blog post yesterday.

Additionally, once I had completed and submitted my application and verified my identity, the site told me that I was missing information and had to review it again. Nothing was missing. Ultimately, I got an error message telling me to come back later.

The Obama administration says the site can now handle 50,000 unique visitors at one time and 800,000 over the course of a day. But on Day One of the new-and-improved site, it doesn’t appear able to keep up with the load. No wonder HHS is encouraging users to come back at off-peak hours.

Some screen shots of my experience are below.

Immediately I encountered delays:

ProPublica screenshot1

The delays continued:

ProPublica screenshot2

After completing my application and submitting it successfully, I was told information was missing and was asked to go back through it — with delays:

ProPublica screenshot3

I finally hit a wall I could not jump over — the error message:

ProPublica screenshot4

I began a live chat on the website. Here’s what I was told:

[11:32:03 am]: Thanks for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. Please wait while we connect you to someone who can help.

[11:32:06 am]: Please be patient while we’re helping other people.

[11:32:11 am]: Welcome! You’re now connected to Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. Thanks for contacting us. My name is Kassie. To protect your privacy, please don’t provide any personal information, like Social Security Number, or any other sensitive medical or personal information.

[11:32:15 am]: Charlie

Hi there. I have been trying to fill out my application and keep hitting a wall.

[11:32:32 am]: Kassie

Good morning Charlie

[11:32:40 am]: Kassie

I apologize for the inconvenience.

[11:32:45 am]: Charlie

I keep getting long delays on each page and finally successfully submitted my application, but then was told I was missing things.

[11:33:02 am]: Kassie

Where are you getting stuck at?

[11:33:07 am]: Charlie

When I went back through it, nothing was missing, but I got this error: Sorry, there’s a problem with our system Please log out, then try again after 30 minutes. If you continue to get this message, call the Marketplace Call Center 1-800-318-2596. TTY users should call 1-855-889-4325. You’ll need the Application ID shown below. Application Id: 160747816

[11:33:39 am]: Kassie

Again, I apologize for the inconvenience.

[11:34:07 am]: Charlie

Is there an overload today or is [it] on my end?

[11:34:25 am]: Kassie

Have you tried logging out and waiting the 30 minutes and then retrying?

[11:34:33 am]: Charlie

Not yet.

[11:34:55 am]:Kassie

We apologize for any technical difficulties you may be experiencing as you use We know this can be frustrating, and we’re working around the clock to improve and to make sure your experience with it is a positive one.

[11:35:27 am]: Charlie

I was just wondering if this is on my end. I read that the problems had been fixed and that the load times were much faster, but that hasn’t been my experience today.

[11:35:30 am]: Kassie

Write down your application ID number so you have it.

[11:36:07 am]: Kassie

Nothing you did wrong, Charlie. You’re fine.

[11:36:24 am]: Charlie

OK. Will try again later.

[11:36:30 am]: Kassie

Do you have any other questions that I can help you with?

[11:36:38 am]: Kassie

Thank you for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. We are here to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

[11:40:37 am]: Kassie

I apologize for the inconvenience.

[11:41:08 am]: Your chat session is over. Thanks for contacting us, and we hope we’ve answered your questions. Have a great day.

I went back 30 minutes later and I couldn’t even log on.

Perhaps aware that the site could crash again, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is encouraging users not to log on during peak hours.

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from Ornstein’s “Healthy Buzz” blog. Have you tried signing up for health care coverage through the new exchanges? Help us cover the Affordable Care Act by sharing your insurance story.

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier
Screenshots via

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  • sigrid28

    Boy howdy, what a perfect time to be piling on! Now, you just take your place behind this long line of Republicans whining about the website (don’t slip on their pooling crocodile tears), because those of us who follow the “National Memo” comment threads just want to know about every complaint you have about But please–PLEASE–do not give us the play-by-play any medical problems you’ve had to live with, waiting for the day when you can afford insurance or qualify for Medicaid under the state expansions provided by the ACA. We don’t want to know about how high your blood pressure is without the correct medication, or today, tomorrow, and the next day’s numbers on the test strips you can barely afford to manage your diabetes. Pregnant and finally able to see a doctor for the two of you? Don’t bore us with your ultrasound snapshot. In January, you can finally get the kid in to see a doctor about what might be asthma? I’m just glad he’s not my problem, because I’m extremely busy sniffing out every little glitch I can uncover on the ACA website and bringing the world up-to-speed about how miffed I am about what Ted Cruz likes to call “that train wreck that is Obamacare.” Now there’s someone who has some sympathy about what I am going through.

  • elw

    Gee, the same thing happens to me every time I try to get technical assistance from my cable provider. I tried calling the my cell phone company the other day and had to wait 30 minutes for them to even answer the line and was cut off when they tried to transfer me. When I called back I was told by a recorded message that the lines were too busy and I should call back at a low traffic time. Welcome to the digital age.

  • OKsettledown

    System overload is a direct result of the need for health insurance in this country. I find it interesting that the best the Republicans can do at this time is work at overloading the system so they can criticize it. Do you suppose this guy even contemplated purchasing coverage or was just trying to cause problems?

  • Stuart

    Your Pulitzer is in the mail. Nothing gets past tough-as-nails journalists like you. Keep those failure anecdotes coming. The health care you lose could be your own.

  • NCSteve

    Dear Mr. Ornstein:

    Attached is a link to a sample size calculator that lets even a layman quickly determine whether a sample is sufficiently large to enable the observer to draw conclusions at a given confidence level and confidence interval:

    It also includes helpful explanations of terms like “confidence interval” and “confidence level.”

    If you play with it a little bit, you’ll find that the only population size for which a sample size n=1 represents a valid statistical sample at any confidence level or interval is 1.