Colorado's health insurance marketplace overwhelmed in first hours

October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:53 am
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Thousands of Coloradans rushed to shop for health insurance in the state's new health care marketplace Tuesday morning, temporarily overwhelming its website and clogging phone lines at a Colorado Springs call center.

Colorado wasn't the only problem spot.

Several health care exchanges across the nation - From Washington state to Illinois to New Hampshire - buckled as a surge of people sought health insurance on the first day they could begin shopping for insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

In Colorado, officials temporarily suspended the process for opening marketplace accounts - a key step for allowing people to purchase health insurance. Despite the hiccup in service, 1,450 people had created accounts by 3:15 p.m. - a total that marketplace officials hailed as a sign of strong interest.

Connect for Health Colorado's website averaged 100,000 page views an hour while registering about 57,500 unique visitors during the first eight hours, marketplace officials said.

Still, officials did not say how many people actually purchased coverage.

"This is really the start of a six-month enrollment process," said Patty Fontneau, Connect for Health Colorado's chief executive. "We expect this to continue and to grow over time."

Activity remained largely confined to the website and call centers: About 3,000 people either called or chatted online.

But interest ebbed elsewhere.

Six hours after the marketplace opened, health coverage guides at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Government's office had yet to see anyone stop by for a visit, said Jason Wilkinson, an agency spokesman.

And more people inquired about expanded Medicaid coverage than about the state's marketplace at Peak Vista Community Health Centers, said Marjorie Noleen, a nonprofit spokeswoman.

The nonprofit's Medicaid's rolls are expected to swell under the upcoming Medicaid expansion, which extended coverage to almost everyone under 133-percent of the federal poverty level.

On Tuesday, nine phone calls or walk-in visits dealt with the new marketplace, compared with 105 consultations concerning Medicaid, Noleen said.

Peak Vista officials said they expect interest in the marketplace to increase as a Dec. 15 deadline nears for people who want their coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

"Step one, they need to understand what it even is and what it could mean for them. And then step two is finding out what product will work," Noleen said. "... such a complicated and debated law, there's just so much hesitation out there."

Some chose to avoid the rush - and possible computer glitches - entirely.

Told that she has to find new coverage by Feb. 1, Susan Hindman elected to forgo dealing with the stress of any possible website glitches Tuesday.

"I thought that (logging on) would be next to crazy," Hindman said. "Not going on the website today wasn't the worst thing in the world. I have some more time to go."


Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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