Ed touched on this earlier but it’s worth risking redundancy to give it extra attention, especially now that I’m seeing tweets like this (from a Huffington Post reporter, no less):
Looks like the health care website glitches are a real issue. imagine if the political world was focused on that and not a shutdown.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) October 1, 2013
“The political world” can focus on whatever it chooses to, so let’s focus. The best round-up of assorted exchange websites melting down on launch day is Twitchy’s, but if you want a walkthrough on what it’s like to try to navigate the Healthcare.gov site this morning, Charlie Spiering at the Examiner is your man. He’s got an easy peasy 14-step guide that involves waiting while the server tries to redirect you to the right page, having your answers to the site’s security questions rejected for no apparent reason, receiving messages that your account can’t be created at the moment, receiving messages that you can’t create an account because you’ve already created one, and then ending up on a login page with a gibberish header before finally being instructed to “Contact your system administrator.” Curious to see if I’d experience the same thing, I was redirected to the New York State exchange website. This was waiting for me:
They had three years to work out the kinks. Not only couldn’t they do it, apparently some of them couldn’t do something as simple as prepare their servers for the load on launch day knowing that there’d be a crush of interest after a massive federal PR campaign involving the president himself. Imagine Obama’s reaction if someone had told him in March 2010 that development of the exchanges would be so half-assed that he’d be forced to spend the day before they open — ostensibly his moment of triumph — warning reporters that glitches were assured. This is his signature domestic “achievement,” the biggest paradigm shift towards state-administered health care in decades, the success of which depends on making things as easy as possible for the uninsured to sign up. Despite all that, people are getting messages this morning that “The system is down.” Man, is it ever.
To its credit, and despite warnings from other parts of the media that journalists shouldn’t “rush to judgment” about O-Care just because the feds couldn’t pull it together with three years’ lead time, WaPo is covering glitchapalooza this morning with both a story on the topic and live updates on their launch blog. A taste:
Jon Tucci stayed up until midnight Monday, hoping to enroll on West Virginia’s new insurance marketplace at the first moment possible.
Ten hours later — after two attempts at signing up and one 45-minutes call with a consumer service agent — technical glitches have prevented the 60-year-old grandfather from purchasing a plan.
“I’m pretty fluent on the Internet,” Tucci, who is self-employed in the oil and gas industry, says. “I’ve applied for a lot of things, and there are always glitches. But this was totally disappointing. I’m just really frustrated.”
His call with customer service ended when the agent tried to put him on hold — after 45 minutes — and disconnected him instead. Meanwhile, both Minnesota and Maryland have announced that would-be applicants should check back at their state websites later this afternoon, when things will hopefully have improved from half-assed to three-quarter-assed. How bad will things get elsewhere? Stand by for updates.
Update: Another thing you might want to do for launch day of a massive new federal program: Hire extra customer service.
Update: Josh Barro’s experience with the New York site was even worse than mine:
a Maryland resident, responded to the website message about not trying to log in until this afternoon by calling Maryland customer service instead. The operator told him she couldn’t hear him well due to “connectivity issues” and advised him to … call back this afternoon.
Update: Before noon on the east coast, we have an official apology:
Thanks for all your comments and updates as you enroll. We apologize that wait times on the site and hotline are longer than expected! (1/2)
— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) October 1, 2013
We're working to fix these issues as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience (2/2)
— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) October 1, 2013
Update: The Corner is also compiling reports via Twitter of O-Care websites being down. Just to circle back to Stein’s point above, does the shutdown help or hurt Obama’s press shop in trying to spin the rollout? A friend suggested last night that the shutdown actually helps them because low-information (i.e. dumb) voters might conclude that it’s the shutdown, not HHS’s incompetence, that’s to blame for the glitches. BuzzFeed counters, though, that the shutdown hurts the White House because they’re desperate to put out the word to the uninsured to sign up, glitches or not. The more the shutdown dominates media coverage, the harder it is for that message to get through. And of course, with fewer tech specialists at work due to the shutdown, the harder it’ll be to address the glitches early on.
Update: Good enough for government work?
Update: My mistake. Klein isn’t a Maryland resident, he just called the Maryland exchange to see how they were handling applications.