WASHINGTON – It’s not the sign that the Obama administration wants people to see on its health overhaul website: down for repairs.
Using overnight hours this weekend to debug the system, the Health and Human Service Department hoped to fix the technological problems that overwhelmed the launch of new health insurance markets. Glitches have frustrated millions of consumers unable to complete their applications.
Enrollment functions of the healthcare.gov site will be unavailable during off-peak hours this weekend, HHS said Friday. The department did not release a schedule for hours of operation, but a spokeswoman said the site would be taken down at 1 a.m. EDT each night for a few hours.
The enrollment function was back online shortly before 8 a.m. EDT Saturday, but was working slowly because of heavy traffic.
“Please stay on this page,” said a notice. “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.”
There was no indication of how long the wait would be.
Credit card companies, banks and other online service providers regularly take down websites for repairs. That may also become a feature of the new insurance program.
An effort by congressional Republicans to defund or delay the health care law led to an impasse with Democrats over passing a budget bill, and that sparked a partial government shutdown Tuesday. Republicans quickly pointed to the website problems as another reason that the law they call “Obamacare” should be pulled back.
The administration put the best face on the situation, noting the unexpectedly strong interest from millions of consumers.
“Americans are excited to look at their options for health coverage, with record demand in the first days of the marketplaces,” said the release announcing the planned fixes.
The statement was headlined: “Health Insurance Marketplace Open for Business – Week One Success.”
The state-level markets were designed to be the gateway to health insurance for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job. Middle-class consumers will be able to buy government-subsidized private plans, while the poor and near-poor will be steered to Medicaid in states agreeing to expand the program.