Website stumbles on launch

Freddie Allen | 10/30/2013, 4:48 p.m.
Last week, President Barack Obama said what many people who visited healthcare.gov to browse and buy affordable health insurance already ...
Screenshot of HealthCare.gov, Oct. 29. Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

WASHINGTON – Last week, President Barack Obama said what many people who visited healthcare.gov to browse and buy affordable health insurance already knew: The website, tied so heavily to the success of the Affordable Care Act, wasn’t working properly.

“And there’s no sugarcoating it,” said Obama during a speech on the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 21. “The website has been too slow; people have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am – precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work.”

For weeks, visitors to healthcare.gov were greeted by error messages and maintenance pages that implored them to try again later. Some were even kicked out of the application process as they tried to sign up. White House officials called the problems minor glitches attributable to heavy traffic, but those glitches exposed much deeper concerns.

The Washington Post reported that government insiders knew of potential problems before the Oct. 1 launch of healthcare.gov and that the website “crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.”

According to the newspaper, governments officials ignored warning signs and “Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.”

The problems with the Affordable Care Act rollout were also compounded by the fact that as White House officials crowed about the website, other modes of accessing the new healthcare exchanges were drowned out of the conversation.

“There are folks who talk about the website challenges, but once people find out that there are multiple paths to enrollment, then the stress seems to go away,” said Etoy Ridgnal, the national director for African American Engagement for Enroll America, an independent, nonpartisan health care enrollment coalition. “Most people that I talk to don’t realize that there is more than one pathway to enrollment.”

Anton J. Gunn, the director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that the Affordable Care Act is more than just a website – it’s about getting people health insurance. That’s why there are four different ways to enroll: online, by mail, in-person or over the telephone.

African Americans have a lot to gain with the success of the Affordable Care Act. According to a fact sheet released by the Department of Health and Human Services:

  • 7.3 million African Americans with private insurance now have access to expanded preventive services with no cost-sharing. This includes services such as colonoscopy screening for colon cancer, Pap smears and mammograms for women, well-child visits and flu shots for all children and adults.

  • An estimated 5.1 million African American women with private health insurance now have guaranteed access to women’s preventive services without cost-sharing. These services include well-woman visits, HPV testing, counseling services, breastfeeding support, mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer, prenatal care and other services.

  • The 4.5 million elderly and disabled African Americans who receive health coverage from Medicare also have access to many preventive services with no cost-sharing, including annual wellness visits with personalized prevention plans, diabetes and colorectal cancer screening, bone mass measurement and mammograms.

  • More than 500,000 young African American adults between ages 19 and 25 who would otherwise have been uninsured, including 230,000 African American women, now have coverage under their parents employer-sponsored or individually purchased health plan.