Millions of Americans logged on to the new Obamacare health insurance exchanges Tuesday, looking to sign up for health coverage for the first time. The public response was so great that in some states, it swamped the exchange websites, prompting error messages, delays, and crashing sites on the opening day.
The new exchanges opened the same day as the government officially shut down prompted by House Republicans who continued to insist on attaching anti-Obamacare language to a spending bill despite a veto threat from President Obama. The shut down went into effect but the tactic did not stop Obamacare and the exchanges, which allow millions of previously uninsured Americans to shop dozens of insurance options. But predicted "glitches" slowed the process on opening day.
California’s online, state-run exchange stopped loading around noon despite repeated attempts. Due to a "tremendous response," Kentucky added a message for users explaining that the site "is currently experiencing log in issues and our technical team is working to resolve the problem."
Idaho’s state website prompted for log in information before even presenting a landing page, while Maryland’s exchange asked visitors to return at a later date because they “want to make the experience as positive for everyone as possible” and were “experiencing a high volume of traffic.” Nevada’s state-run site presented an error message and told users they’d be notified by email when the situation was resolved, though no email had been input into the system.
New York’s state-run exchange site crashed as state officials said 2 million people had visited the site within the first two hours. The numbers spoke volumes: The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates there are 2.6 million uninsured New Yorkers.
The federal government's site, Healthcare.gov, was slowed down by the volume of people and repeatedly flashed a "please wait" message.
President Obama acknowledged the delays Tuesday as he spoke from the Rose Garden.
"The reason is because more than 1 million people visited before 7 a.m.," he said of the federal site. "That gives you the sense of how important this is to Americans around the country."
He added that glitches in the law did not reinforce Republicans claim that the law should be repealed or delayed, even pointing to the tech problems of Apple's popular iPhones as evidence that such issues are inevitable bumps along the road.
“Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it,” he said. “I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t. That’s not how we do things in America.”
The delays and bugs extended off-line too. "We are currently receiving a high volume of calls, leading to long wait times. If you prefer not to wait, we encourage you to call back later," a record message told New York state callers, according to a local paper.
MSNBC's own Mara Schiavocampo got a first-hand sense of the sheer volume of people trying to access the New York health care exchange early Tuesday.
Some Republicans seized on her experience as evidence that Obamacare had failed. In the midst of a government shutdown and fiscal crisis on Capitol Hill, Brendan Buck, the press secretary for Majority Leader John Boehner, found time to tweet about it - twice.
Video of MSNBC-anchor-Obamacare-signup-fail https://t.co/1rRxuj6oPD
— Brendan Buck (@Brendan_Buck) October 1, 2013
In fact, Schiavocampo's efforts showed how popular the site was with so many people trying so quickly to get online to learn about their health insurance options.
"Right now, in the opening days, with lots of people crashing, trying to find out what It’s like, we will probably have more glitches than we will in a week or two," said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who served as special adviser for health policy for the White House Office of Management and Budget. "Every day it’s going to get better," he said.
On the federal site, selecting certain states brought users to a landing page asking them to wait due to high user volume.
"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 log-in page. Thank you for your patience," the message read. The page reloaded and directed users to sign up for an account to access the marketplace.
“There were five times more users on the Marketplace website this morning than have ever been on the Medicare.gov at one time,” Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for Health and Human Services said in a statement.
Peters and another senior administration official said they are working to tackle glitches quickly.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a strong Obamacare critic and Kansas congressman, logged on overnight and discovered a number of bugs.
But not every conservative opposed to the Affordable Care Act joined Huelskamp’s chorus on Tuesday. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose state ranks as one of the least healthiest in the nation, stayed quiet about the Affordable Care Act Tuesday, despite actively tweeting articles and statements throughout the summer criticizing the health care law for being “unworkable.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who spent the majority of his summer controlling health care policies in his state, also had little to say Tuesday, though he told CNBC that the health care law would create “an absolute economic disaster.” Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the country, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and was ranked the 40th healthiest state in 2012.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also remained silent, tweeting only a statement blaming the president for the shutdown. Haley was previously vocal about wanting Congress to defund the health care law, but said she didn’t support a shutdown to do so.
The president had sought to head off such criticism earlier in the week, saying "I would suspect that there will be glitches. This is 50 states, a lot of people signing up for something...But what we're confident about is that people will be able to take a look and find out whether this is something that is going to be good for their families."