Glitches continue as 6.1 million visit health care websites
BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Staff Reporter October 2, 2013 6:40PM
Highland Park Wednesday 10-2-13 The 'Get Covered Illinois' website makes obtaining health insurance easy for Will Wilson as he works his way through the website at his home in Highland Park Wednesday afternoon 10-2-13. Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Updated: November 4, 2013 12:20PM
A Highland Park man who hadn’t had health insurance for years got through.
It was 3 a.m. Tuesday, but Will Wilson was able to access the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace and check out options and premiums on the federal government’s website.
Many others were still left waiting Wednesday as problems persisted on the second day of the new insurance marketplace sites here and across the country as a high volume of visitors continued to overwhelm the federal site.
Wilson, who is uninsured because of a pre-existing condition, said he’s eligible to participate in the newly expanded Medicaid program made possible by the Affordable Care Act.
The marketplaces, where people can shop for coverage and apply for Medicaid, are a major component of the health care reform law.
The state site saw no evidence of computer glitches Wednesday, said Kelly Sullivan, spokeswoman for the state’s GetCoveredIllinois.gov site. As on Tuesday, problems arose when people were connected to the federal site. The Illinois site routes people who don’t qualify for Medicaid to the federal site at HealthCare.gov, where they can shop from among 165 plans available in Illinois.
As of 3 p.m., the Illinois site had more than 230,000 visitors, and more than 5,000 people had applied for Medicaid, according to Sullivan.
She couldn’t say how many people have enrolled for private insurance. That data is in the hands of the federal government, which hasn’t released it.
An undisclosed number of Americans successfully enrolled to purchase insurance through HealthCare.gov and state marketplaces on Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services spokesman Fabien Levy said in a statement Wednesday.
Volume was high, with 6.1 million unique or first-time visitors in the first 36 hours, he said.
While “overwhelming interest is continuing to cause wait times, there will be continuing improvements in the coming hours and days,” Levy said in the statement.
Wilson, who was diagnosed with AIDS 12 years ago, was so happy that the marketplaces were opening that he jumped online during the predawn hours Tuesday.
“No insurance company would touch me,” he said, adding he was forced to file bankruptcy because of medical bills. At the time of his diagnosis, he was self-employed and had insurance.
“But it didn’t really cover anything,” he said. “I very quickly maxed out my credit cards.
“This has a very personal connection for me. It is freedom. I have freedom. I have options,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who is unemployed, said he plugged in numbers on the site with a fantasy income level of $46,000 to see what the premium would be. He said he saw rates of between $320 and $360.
That was less than he was paying when he had insurance, “and they were covering more,” he said.
Chicagoan Gayle Weiss struck out in her attempts to shop at the Illinois marketplace. But she plans to try again. A 1995 accident forced her to quit work and left her on disability, and two years later she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she said. Since then she has been unable to find affordable insurance.
“The premiums were more than my mortgage payment, so I couldn’t afford that,” she said, adding, she’s “absolutely totally excited,” about the new marketplaces despite the glitches.
“It’s not just the fact that I would be eligible for coverage with a pre-existing condition,” she said. “No one should have to risk their future for something they have no control over, like illness.”
Consumers can enroll in the marketplace though Dec. 15 for coverage that begins Jan. 1, and the full open enrollment period for 2014 coverage extends through March 31.
Levy advises that if you see a “holding page” for a few minutes before you enter the application process, don’t refresh your browser or leave the page because you will lose your place in line.
The feds are adding capacity and streamlining the system to improve performance.