The Health Insurance Marketplace ostensibly opened yesterday. Beginning at midnight, Americans could create an account and shop for coverage plans that would go into effect at the beginning of next year. The operative word here being "ostensibly."
Somehow the biggest hindrance to the rolling out of Obamacare wasn't a policy that prevents "navigators" from explaining the program to citizens in county health departments. Nor was it a government shutdown. It was a website that wasn't operational with Firefox, Safari, or Google Chrome.
Clearly, one of two issues is to blame: Either no one tested healthcare.gov before it went live, or so many people wanted to sign up that the site overloaded. Maybe (probably?) it was a combination of both.
At first, everything seemed like smooth sailing. Enter a user name and password, and select a state. Just like signing up for eBay or punkmatch.com (It is real, by the way.) Problems arose when trying to select security questions from a drop-down menu. There were no questions to choose from, and the entire menu was blank.
Calling the listed 800 number was no help, either. It was impossible to talk to a human being, and the phone tree options provided only explainers of how the exchange worked, on a conceptual rather than technical level. A "live chat" with an operator led to this dead end:
Riptide tried loading the site in every web browser we could imagine, but instead of getting the broken dropdown menu, we began receiving a message that said the site was overloaded:
People took to complaining on the Marketplace's Facebook page en masse. An administrator there told folks to come back during off-peak hours, and that everything should be better between 5 and 8 p.m. It didn't work for us, and it still didn't work the next day. Curiously, the only thing that's changed is the wait menu, which is now more colorful and inviting.
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Great. We spent about 40 minutes staring at the revamped wait screen today before giving up. That means a Marketplace account is at least as difficult to get in this country as Coachella tickets.
But is the main problem a glitch or an overload? We're eager to see if the site works better this afternoon, after we've finished waiting in line. If it's still not working, we'll try one unlikely tip provided by a Facebook user:
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti