State Health Exchange Website Hits Snag on First Day

Oct 1, 2013

Washington’s new health insurance exchange made a brief appearance Tuesday morning before going dark for much of the day. 

The site was supposed to come online at 7:30. Exchange officials say they quickly began receiving complaints that the site was loading slowly for some users, and not loading at all for others. Spokesman Michael Marchand says by 8:30, officials decided to pull the site offline to make repairs.

“As opposed to trying to, you know, fix the tire as it’s getting flat while you're still driving the car, it’s much easier to pull over to the side of the road and get the situation resolved,” Marchand said.

The website WAHealthPlanFinder.org allows consumers to comparison shop for coverage and apply for subsidies from the federal government.

Misti Hlavacek set her alarm early to get up and sign up for healthcare. She couldn’t wait to log onto wahealthplanfinder.org and select an insurance plan. Instead:

“It just said, ‘error, loading page, reload’” she said.             

Hlavacek vented her disappointment on the Exchange’s Facebook page: “Boo,” she wrote. Hlavacek is unemployed, uninsured, and has pre-existing conditions.

“Being able to sign up would have been a huge relief for me and just all that weight lifted off my shoulders,” she said.

“The launch could not have gone any worse,” said Baharat Shyam, Washington’s former chief information officer and a big fan of Obamacare. Back in January, Shyam warned in a report that the race to meet an Oct. 1 deadline could result in “major flaws.

“This date was coming for a long time, and the launch is just terrible,” he said.

Exchange officials say they don’t know yet what caused the outage, but say it was not related to heavy site traffic. They say it also has nothing to do with the federal government shutdown. Exchanges elsewhere in the country, from Michigan to Maryland, have also experienced glitches.

An Exchange spokesman called the problems “bumps in the road” and said success would be measured in the coming months, not the first hours. Deloitte LLP got a $50 million contract to build Washington’s Exchange.