With Obamacare Systems Still Slow, Backlog of the Uninsured Builds

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) -

Access to new online health insurance exchanges remained limited on Thursday for millions of Americans seeking information on Obamacare benefits, creating a backlog of the uninsured seeking coverage.

Local health clinics, nonprofit community groups and others have stepped forward to assist would-be beneficiaries in person. They saw an unexpected influx of phone calls and walk-in visits from uninsured people who couldn’t access their state’s online marketplace due to heavy traffic and technical problems.

Community health clinics in Miami and other Florida cities have seen crowds of people, some lining up outside the door as early as 7 a.m. EDT. Florida’s exchange is being handled by
the federal government’s Healthcare.gov site, which has stalled for many users in the 36 states it serves.

“There have been so many issues with online enrollment because of glitches. But we’ve been able to take down a ton of information from people so that they can come back and complete the process as soon as the computer glitches get resolved,” said Andy Behrman of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, which has 50 facilities in Florida.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Thursday that 7 million visitors have logged onto Healthcare.gov. A federal call center has also fielded 295,000 telephone calls.

Officials are quick to emphasize that the number of website hits is unlikely to bear any correlation to a much smaller number of actual enrollments in the exchanges’ first week. But they expect the number of Americans completing applications to spike in November and December for people intent on having benefits available on January 1.

Technical experts worked around the clock to expand the capacity of the federal system. Officials said improvements reduced the number of people stuck on hold by about one-third. But by Thursday afternoon, visitors seeking to set up an account on Healthcare.gov were still running into web pages asking them to wait.