Journalism in the Public Interest

Test Run No. 2:’s Invisible Health Plans

Performance issues continue to dog the federal government’s updated health care marketplace. Live chat helper: “Yes, others are experiencing the same problem.”

Update, Dec. 4, 2013: After two failed attempts at getting to review health plan options, the site now appears to be working properly.

Yesterday, I reported on the troubles I had accessing the new-and-improved The Obama administration today said more than 1 million people accessed the site yesterday and that it was stable for users.

The president likewise touted the site’s performance today, part of a push to promote the law.

So I decided to try the site again this afternoon. This time, I didn’t see the “Please Wait” flags that bogged me down yesterday, but I had a more fundamental problem. When I got to the step of comparing health plans, I couldn’t see any.

Once again, I tried a live chat with a representative on the site. A sample:

[4:06:55 pm]: Teniqua

Welcome to the Health Insurance Marketplace web chat, my name is TeNiqua, how may I help you?

[4:07:21 pm]: Charlie

Hi there. I'm on the site and have successfully entered my information and have an account. I am now trying to view my plan options and the screen i[s] blank.

[4:07:36 pm]: Charlie

I've tried resetting my cookies and using a different browser, but still can't see anything.

[4:07:36 pm]: Teniqua

I apologize for the inconvenience.

[4:07:43 pm]: Charlie

I thought this may be a problem yesterday, but I'm having the same problem today.

[4:08:24 pm]: Teniqua

We know this must be frustrating for you and we appreciate your patience. We have our technical experts working to fix this issue and improve the application and enrollment process for everyone. We expect this problem to be resolved soon, so please call us back in early December and we will continue. And don't worry; if you want your insurance coverage to begin on January 1, 2014, we've extended the enrollment deadline to December 23, 2013, so you'll have plenty of time.

[4:08:42 pm]: Charlie

It is early December.

[4:09:15 pm]: Charlie

Are others experiencing this same problem? The president today said that is working for the vast majority of users, but I can't even see plan options.

[4:09:57 pm]: Teniqua

Yes, others are experiencing the same problem.

[4:12:17 pm]: Teniqua

Do you have any other questions that I can help you with?

[4:14:40 pm]: Charlie


[4:14:46 pm]: Teniqua

Thank you for contacting Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat. We are here to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Communications consultant Tony Jewell, former director of media relations and deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Bush administration, writes on his blog that he’s still having problems, too.

Are we alone? What is your experience?

Have you tried signing up for health care coverage through the new exchanges? Help us cover the Affordable Care Act by sharing your insurance story.

Hi, I’ve had that same problem for two weeks now.

Notice in the upper left of the screen where it says “Select a health plan for Group 0”? If you hover over that the hover tip says “toDo add names”.
I’m guessing that that is where the problem is and that it’s low on their fix list.

Maybe it only happens with certain states or when your current address is different that the state that you’re applying for coverage in? I was told be a phone rep that it wasn’t happening for other people.

I have had this problem for at least 2 weeks as well.

It’s great to know that they give exactly zero sh*ts about this particular issue.

That phone rep who said “it wasn’t happening for other people” needs to stop pushing the “company” lie.

For the few of you who didn’t spot it, here’s what I consider to be the evidence on how much work they’re putting into this project:

We expect this problem to be resolved soon, so please call us back in early December and we will continue.

Nobody bothered to update the script and the people they’ve hired aren’t paid enough to give a darn about what page of the calendar we’re on.

This is all starting to sound outsourced to a very tiny company that honestly shouldn’t be in this business.  With mistakes like getting the month wrong, I’d have to question how well they’re doing on HIPAA compliance or data security.

There’s a nagging voice in the back of my head wondering if “TeNiqua” is a real person, too.  It’s an old call center trick, especially when nobody hears the rep’s voice, to assign aliases that are uncommon, ethnic-sounding names, to make the interaction seem more authentic.  And if you’re talking about someone earning a few bucks a day copying and pasting without doing much reading, talking about early December in early December starts to make sense.

Or maybe I’m paranoid, but it’s hard to believe this level of ineptitude from any large, domestic organization.

And seriously, when the website has a problem, nobody thought to catch it and tell people about the phone number?  I’m pretty sure that’ll work.  Very little software needs to be written for that.

The admin’s strategy is this: Lie. Tell the news media, and the social media, first that there are millions of visitors (technically, it could be partially true: a million hits on the site, and few or none of the people hitting could actually get it to do anything, but a million hits nonetheless—and you know that’s how it’s working), second that it’s stable (the servers aren’t crashing, though the system is not functioning in any usable way), and faster (users get through the steps of malfunction more quickly, or find out faster that they can’t do anything now).

Steve Waldron

Dec. 8, 2013, 3 a.m.

I was on the site November 26 & 27. Got in and registered. Started comparing plans and clicking on individual plan details. There are several options for sorting plans which worked for me. However, eventually the plans disappeared and I was stuck and I signed off.

The next day, I got back in to sort and review individual plans and everything worked well. I think I was more successful because I was using the site before the December 1 deadline for the relaunch.

The best strategy is to use the site at off hours when there are likely to be fewer users. Probably, early morning, evening and late evening. I’m confident that individual can set up an account, research plans, and choose and enroll in a plan if they use off hours to apply and enroll.

I also helped a client set up an account and showed her how to sort and review plans. I did not assist her in finding a plan to enroll because she has a personality that caused her to carefull consider every plan in detail before she is comfortable making a decision to enroll in a specific plan. I’m more concerened about the back end of the site where the information shoud be included on the 834 for transmission to the Insurance providers.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
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