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Officials: Surge slams PPACA exchange enrollment systems

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The public health insurance exchange system has been having a quiet third open enrollment period, but and its sisters still seem to have the application-attracting power to crash enrollment websites and swamp call centers near key dates.

In states that use the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enrollment sites, and in most states with state-run enrollment sites, the application deadline for coverage that starts Jan. 1 is Dec 15.

See also: sign-ups reach 2.84 million as deadline nears

Managers for Maryland Health Connection, Maryland’s state-based exchange, reported getting heavy turnout for in-person exchange enrollment events in Baltimore and Rockville, Md., Sunday. Meredith Hurston, a health care advocate who helped run the enrollment event in Baltimore, said more than 100 consumers showed up.

Consumers and brokers filled Twitter with posts about how long they had been trying to get past frozen enrollment site welcome screens and glitches, and how long they had waited on hold to try to speak with live humans at call centers.

One consumer resident tweeted, “1hr 12min on hold so far… hope my cell phone battery lasts.” Others said they were starting to like the exchange call centers’ hold music.

In New York, a resident tweeted, “Called TWICE and both times waited over an hour, then you hung up on me.”

B. Ronnell Nolan, a Louisiana-based broker who serves as president of Health Agents for America (HAFA), said the site was closed to consumers who were trying to enroll for the first time for at least two hours today. Consumers who were renewing coverage could log in and update their accounts, but newcomers could not get covered.

Lori Lodes, communications director at the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) division, told Nolan the site was having problems because of unprecedented demand.

“More people are simultaneously shopping right now at than at any point this year or last year,” the representative wrote to Nolan in an email shared with

Consumers may have to wait for a chance to log in to or create an account, and the call center may have to take contact information and call some consumers back later, Lodes told Nolan.

Lodes said the call center system is “ready to help any consumer who is in-line for coverage to complete their enrollment for January 1 coverage.” That wording seems to imply that issuers will make Jan. 1 start-date coverage available to consumers who were officially in the application line by the Dec. 15 deadline, even if they did not complete an application by Dec. 15. 

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