Health Care Exchanges overwhelmed by demand

Health Care Exchanges overwhelmed by demand

Summary: No, it's not just you. The Obamacare health care exchanges have been overwhelmed by citizens' demands for information about the new health insurance offerings.


October 1st was the day. The US government may have shutdown, but despite the best efforts of Tea Party Republicans, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's centerpiece — the state and Federal health exchanges where people can shop for insurance coverage — is open for business.

Sort of. Some if the sites — including the federal flagship Website — were mired with problems on the first day.

If you saw this error message while trying to check out your Obamacare health insurance on October 1st, you weren't alone.

Would-be insurance shoppers were often met with the message, "We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!"

People were often then redirected to a page with the message, "The System is down at the moment. We're working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later."

The program's official Twitter feed was already  apologizing for the site's defects by 9:41 AM Eastern time, "Thanks for all your comments and updates as you enroll. We apologize that wait times on the site and hotline are longer than expected!"

So what was the problem? The government shutdown? Bad Website design? Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks? Hacking? The answer appears to have been none of the above.

The real reason why the site was so dysfunctional, according to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department,  is that more people than the department had expected were trying to use the site.

An official at HHS said, "We have built a dynamic system and are prepared to make adjustments as needed and improve the consumer experience. This new system will allow millions of Americans to access quality, affordable health care coverage – without underwriting. Consumers who need help can also contact the call center, use the live chat function, or go to to find an in-person assistor in their community." These fall-backs also appeared to be overwhelmed.

In a 4PM ET press conference, Marilyn Tavenner, the Administrator for the HHS' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said that there were "more simultaneous users on the health exchanges than we'd ever seen on 2.8 million people visited sites since midnight." To put that into perspective, Hall added that there were "7 times more simultaneous users on the Federal health exchange Website than the highest number ever of simultaneous users on site."

So, Tavenner, who was working today, blamed the problems on the "typical launch day glitches" and "overwhelming traffic ." To combat it, HHS is adding capacity and fixing glitches in the site as they occur."

The single biggest problem, besides simply being unable to reach the site successfully, has been the drop-down menu on security questions. The HHS is working on fixing this.

It wasn't just the national site. "Several states incurring similar traffic problems," said Tavenner. "Hawaii and Maryland are having technical issues they are working to resolve soon."

So, what should you do for now? While HHS is adding calculators and other non-interactive Website tools to help people get an idea how much they'll end up paying, perhaps your best move is to simply wait out the first rush of potential insurance buyers. Once this is over the site will be more responsive.

 With a tip of the hat to Pam Baker, editor of FierceBigData, for her help with reporting this story.

Related Stories:

Topics: Networking, Government US, Health

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • And what part of this wasn't expected?

    OK, so the government techies under designed like normal. The servers got blasted the second they went up because every US Citizen and immigrant is impacted by Obama Care.

    I just hope the actual insurance is run better than the IT portion. If not, what health care we have will be in the toilet.

    Something about, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help!"
    • Sorry to say

      "I just hope the actual insurance is run better than the IT portion. If not, what health care we have will be in the toilet."

      I think you are correct on the later no matter what.
      • The insurance part is the same as insurance now

        I found the process to be a pain, but I got through. I'm actually staying with my current insurer, but buying from them through the exchange instead.

        Incidentally, I tested out Anthem Blue Cross' website to check to see what rates I'd get if I stayed with them directly and their site was barely moving too. I don't know if it's from their back end systems communicating with the exchange or just from people like me logging in one last time to look at their current plans before deciding, but even the private insurance site was crapping out.
  • I wonder...

    Watching cable news today made me wonder how much unnecessary load was created by reporters, media pundits, politicians and just plain ole' curiosity seekers.
  • Tea Party and mud pies....

    While the Tea Party kids sit at the folding table drinking imaginary tea, making mud pies and doing the one thing they are designed to do (shut down Obama Care). I have to wonder if they are smart enough to realize that Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks could be employed to interfere with the new health care plan.
    • DDoS isn't the worst of it

      If you believe reports, the security is so bad on these servers, due to time deadlines, that theft of data is a real possibility. You know, just basic stuff like name, address, SSN, birthday, and anything else an identity thief would need to open a credit account in your name.

      I hope the reports are wrong, but, you know, they are from the government and here to help.

  • This is why the private sector does soft launches

    Government can't do a soft-launch (because you have to pass a law first, and you can't do that in secret) so their servers get hammered to death the first few days. The only possible way around that is to either overengineer to a ludicrous degree, or run it on a cloud to cope with the additional traffic on day one (and then you can cut back the capacity as the load comes down to normal levels).

    Building a giant government cloud that can host the IRS on tax day and Obamacare on enrolment day, and other key services when they are busy is a good idea - but there isn't one, so it would have to go on a private-company cloud like AWS, and I think most of us would prefer that not to happen.
    • Not possible

      the IRS alone has been trying to upgrade for decades. Every project suffers the same fate. Over budget and years late.

      Moving them to the cloud seems like a wonderful idea, until you realize the complexity of the dinosaur systems. Nice to propose, but execution is virtually impossible. Something tells me you've never done a complex conversion like that or you wouldn't have suggested something that insane.
      • Maybe we should have stuck with paper

        Maybe we should have just kept this simple and done it on paper. Of course that has problems too, but too much load wouldn't be one of them at least.

        Nothing in government is as simple as it appears and nothing in healthcare is simple as it should be. Combine the two together and it's going to be a bumpy ride.

        I'm disappointed the roll out wasn't smoother, but it'll be worth it. As a solo entrepreneur, I'm finally able to get more competitive rates and don't have to worry about abandoning my business if I lose my healthcare coverage.
  • This is great

    (Washington Free Beacon) The Kentucky Obamacare marketplace has no “expectation of privacy,” warning its prospective customers that their information can be monitored and shared with government bureaucrats.

    When clicking “let’s get started” on the state-run health insurance marketplace “kynect,” the user is quickly prompted to a “WARNING NOTICE.”

    “This is a government computer system and is the property of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” it states. “It is for authorized use only regardless of time of day, location or method of access. ”

    “Users (authorized or unauthorized) have no explicit or implicit expectation of privacy,” the disclaimer reads. “Any or all uses of this system and all files on the system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized state government and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign.”

  • Cool

    At the 55-minute mark, the woman on the phone said she thought they were almost finished.

    The applicant asked her if he would find out today what his estimated costs would be for the four plans.

    The woman congratulated him on finishing the application process. It would now be reviewed.

    She told him they are processing a lot of applications, and “don’t worry” if it takes a while.

    So the applicant asked when he might expect to hear from them.

    She said the application would be processed, and he should hear from them – by Jan. 1, 2014.