U.S. health law sign-ups set to hit 7 million

Over 125,000 people using website at same time leads to glitches


President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was on track to beat expectations with more than 7 million Americans signing up for health insurance by deadline day Monday, government officials said.

The 7 million target, thought to be out of reach by most experts, was in sight on a day that saw surging consumer interest as well as vexing computer glitches that slowed sign-ups on the HealthCare.gov website.

Two government officials confirmed the milestone, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter ahead of an official announcement.

Seven million was the original target set by the Congressional Budget Office for enrollment in private health insurance plans offered through new online federal and state market places created under Obama’s signature legislation.

That was scaled back to 6 million after the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov last fall. Several state-run websites also had crippling problems.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans who rushed to apply for health insurance Monday faced long, frustrating waits and a new spate of website ills on deadline day.

At times, more than 125,000 people were simultaneously using HealthCare.gov, straining it beyond its capacity. For long stretches Monday, applicants were shuttled to a virtual waiting room where they could leave an email address and be contacted later.

The 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act has been the No. 1 legislative achievement of Obama’s presidency.

But after taking the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections, Republicans have voted more than 50 times to revoke or seriously undermine the program, widely known as “Obamacare.” Those bills have never made it to the floor in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that Republican lawmakers remain committed to repealing Obama’s law.

Since the initial enrollment began in October, millions of Americans have signed up for health insurance through the state and federal exchanges, with many of the policies heavily subsidized to make them affordable for lower- and middle-income people.

Officials said the site had not crashed but was experiencing a very heavy volume of traffic. The website, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, had recorded about 2 million through 3 p.m. EDT. Call centers have received more than 840,000 calls.

Supporters of the health care law fanned out across the country in a final dash to sign up uninsured Americans.

People not signed up for health insurance by the deadline, either through their jobs or on their own, are subject to being fined next year by the Internal Revenue Service, the federal tax collection agency, and that threat helped drive the final dash.

The administration announced last week that people still in line by midnight Monday will be given extra time to enroll.

The website stumbled early Monday — out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug. Another hiccup in the early afternoon temporarily kept new applicants from signing up, and then things slowed further.

Overwhelmed by computer problems when launched last fall, the system has been working much better in recent months, but independent testers say it still runs slowly.

At Chicago’s Norwegian American Hospital, people began lining up shortly after 7 a.m. to get help signing up for subsidized private health insurance. Lucy Martinez, an unemployed single mother of two boys, said she had previously tried to enroll at a clinic in another part of the city but there was always a problem.

She’d wait and wait and the helpers wouldn’t call her name, or she would be asked for paperwork that she had been told earlier she didn’t need, she said. Her diabetic mother would start sweating so they’d both have to leave.

She had heard “that this would be better here,” said Martinez, adding that her mother successfully signed up Sunday at a different location.

At a Houston community center there were immigrants from Ethiopia, Nepal, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and other conflict-hit areas, many of them trying anew after failing to complete applications previously.

In addition to needing help with the actual enrollment, they needed to wait for interpreters. Many had taken a day off work, hoping to meet the deadline.

The White House and other supporters of the law were hoping for an enrollment surge that would confound skeptics.

The insurance markets — or exchanges — offer subsidized private health insurance to people who do not have access to coverage through their jobs.

The federal government is taking the lead in 36 states, while 14 other states plus Washington, D.C., are running their own enrollment websites.