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Health insurance exchanges proceed despite shutdown, albeit with glitches

October 2, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Enrollment in federal and state health insurance marketplaces began as planned Oct. 1 despite the U.S. government shutdown.

The federal marketplace Twitter feed, @healthcaregov, noted that as of mid-day Oct. 2, 4.7 million people had visited the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services-managed marketplace website,, and 190,000 consumers had called the agency. One million of the website visits had occurred before 7 a.m. ET on the first day of enrollment, representing five times the number of visits to the website at any given time, President Obama noted in a press conference.

The federal government is operating the Affordable Care Act-required exchanges for 34 states that declined to run their own.

Media around the country reported glitches with the federal and state exchange sign-up. Visitors to California’s website, for instance, reportedly experienced delays, blanks screens and error messages, and callers had wait times of more than 30 minutes. In New York, 2 million people tried to visit the state-run exchange website,, in its first two hours of operation, prohibiting some visitors from logging in; log-in issues persisted on the second day of operation. Similar difficulties were reported elsewhere as well. Regarding the federal marketplace website, the president assured media that non-furloughed information technology employees would be working to address back-end system issues so that the site could handle the high traffic.

Media outlets also reported stories of previously uninsured citizens successfully signing up for coverage. Consumers who enroll in an insurance plan by Dec. 15 can be covered starting Jan. 1. Open enrollment ends March 31.

In addition to the website and assistance via telephone (800-318-2596 or TTY 855-889-4325), the federal government is providing resources for information about available individual insurance plans via online chats or in-person assistance at community health centers, libraries and other locations. State-run exchanges are providing their own assistance.

Employers with 50 or fewer employees can visit the federal Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) web page to compare health insurance plans and choose coverage appropriate for their businesses and employees. Employers buying health insurance through the SHOP also may qualify for a small business healthcare tax credit to help defray their premium costs. Beginning in 2014, this tax credit will be worth as much as 50 percent of an employer’s contribution to premiums.

Small businesses also can contact the dedicated SHOP marketplace call center at 800-706-7893 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET.

The National Council on Aging's National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment has published a "Five things your clients need to know" information sheet (PDF) that is accessible online. Also, the AARP has posted FAQs about the new marketplaces for seniors on its website.

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