Just in time for Halloween: A scary experience with Heathcare.gov

By Maggie Thurber / October 9, 2013 / No Comments

By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

Perhaps October, with its scary Halloween, wasn’t such a good month to roll out a new government website.

Like many people, I was curious if insurance purchased through the new Affordable Care Act health care exchanges would be cheaper than what I currently had. After all, we were told it could save us $2,500 a year.

IS IT REALLY? Despite repeated attempts, a Watchdog.org reporter couldn’t complete an application.
So on Oct. 1 I went to the Healthcare.gov website to find out. What resulted was a week of frustration, lack of registration and still no information on what plans might be available and how much it might cost me.

As the elected clerk of Toledo Municipal Court, I’d done a computer roll out on Jan. 1, 2000, because that system had a Y2K concern: how the change to a two-digit year of 00 would calculate time for speedy trial requirements and Ohio Supreme Court reports.

The roll out of our system worked fine. Surely the federal government, after spending more than $90 million, could create an enrollment website ready for use, especially since the private sector seems to do so on an almost daily basis.

My first attempt to access the page gave me this screen for 10 minutes:

The system requires you to create an account to proceed, so I clicked the proper buttons, entered a user name and password and provided an email address. I then had to wait for the system to send me an email with a link to prove the email was valid. After another 20 minutes, I clicked the emailed link only to get this:

A total of 45 minutes wasted and no verification that I’d actually been able to create an account.

Not yet deterred, I tried again Thursday, thinking that a couple of days would allow them to work out some of the kinks.

At 1 p.m., I got this message: “We have a lot of visitors on the site right now. Please stay on this page. We’re working to make the experience better, and we don’t want you to lose your place in line. We’ll send you to the login page as soon as we can. Thanks for your patience!”

More than 30 minutes later, I was granted access to the log-in page, but it told me my information wasn’t valid. Thinking maybe I input my password incorrectly, I hit the “forgot your password” button only to find that:

We weren’t able to process your request because we couldn’t find a Marketplace profile that matched the information that you provided.

Perhaps the error message after trying to verify my email meant I hadn’t registered. I tried to re-register only to be told the information already existed. After several more attempts, I resorted to creating a second account, but got stuck in limbo again for an hour. So I started over again, waiting for my turn to go to the log-in page and entering my new user name and password only to get a “404 URL Not Found” page.

Another 90 minutes wasted.

At 4 p.m. Thursday I tried one more time. I was encouraged because I didn’t have to wait to get to the log-in page, but when I did log in, I got an internal server error.

Maybe I should try at night?

I attempted again at 8:30 p.m. and got the “we have a lot of visitors on the site right now” message.

As I waited, my frustration level soared.

Were the federal government and their contractors completely incompetent? There are numerous websites that handle hundreds of thousands of hits a day. It couldn’t just be the activity — the system design had to be the problem

And they had to know these issues existed. They could have rolled it out state by state to limit the demand and strain on the servers, if that was really the problem. Instead, they launched a system so woefully incapable of taking you to a log in page and suffered, deservedly so, the utter contempt of people trying to use it.

After all, this was just a sign-up process, right? Aren’t booking sites for hotel rooms more complicated? If it can’t handle this, how is it supposed to handle an entire health care system?

Another 10-minute wait only to be told “The System is down at the moment.”

I gave up for the night.

I tried again Friday afternoon. After 20 minutes of looking at the now-familiar ‘we have a lot of visitors’ page, I logged in and got to the “success URL” page that was completely blank — again.

I hoped maybe the page would load if I was just patient, like the previous screen suggested. But after an hour of waiting, I closed the web page.

On Sunday, I started at 5 a.m. but after a three-hour wait with blank or “please be patient” screens, I opted for live chat. It only took about 10 minutes for a person to come online, so that wasn’t bad, but then he said: “try using Internet Explorer as your web browser.”

I’d been using Google Chrome, and not being a web geek, I have no idea how he knew that, but you’d think that if healthcare.gov worked better in Internet Explorer, they’d tell you that on the homepage.

So I opened Explorer and it informed me “the webpage cannot be found.”

So much for using Explorer.

I returned to chat only to be told “We are having several issues again this morning with the site. Our IT department is working on this issue as we speak. We have been advised that it may be a little while until it is completely fixed. I do know this is frustrating and I am sorry you are having to go through this.”

On Monday, I learned they were adding waiting rooms to the website.

Did they not realize the irony? Or the potential for ridicule? All I needed now was links to old issues of magazines to read.

I waited until Tuesday to try again and found this:

In the afternoon, I tried again, logged on and got to a “let’s get started” page. With hopeful anticipation, I hit the “get started” button … and I’m back to the log-in screen.

I log in again, select the option to apply for myself, get a pop up that tells me the information I’ll need to have to fill out the application and I thought — again — finally.


I waited about 10 minutes and suddenly a “verify your identity” screen popped up.

I entered my name, address and identifying information and it tells me, “Your attempt to verify your identity was unsuccessful.” I double checked everything and resubmitted the information only to be told that my “identity wasn’t verified” and that I won’t be able to submit my application.

Oh, I could complete the application, but it would just sit there, I suppose, in some sort of limbo until my identity was verified. But there weren’t any instructions on how to verify my identity or what to do next.
I gave up. I may try again later, but after this scary experience, maybe not.
it would just sit there, I suppose, in some sort of limbo until my identity was verified. But there weren’t any instructions on how to verify my identity or what to do next.

I gave up.

I may try again later, but after this scary experience, maybe not.

Randy Kelley


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