Obamacare enters new phase over the weekend with little fanfare

By Reuters

Nov 16, 2014 02:08 AM EST

President Barack Obama's plan to extend private health coverage to the uninsured entered a new uncertain phase on Saturday as U.S. government-backed online insurance marketplaces opened their 2015 plans to millions of potential enrollees.

The HealthCare.gov website relaunched with little fanfare and appeared to work smoothly early in the day, a far cry from technical glitches that shut down the operation within minutes of its opening a year ago and drove Democrat Obama's signature domestic policy to the brink of disaster, exposing him to criticism from Republicans who have campaigned for its repeal.

But problems emerged later. Washington state's health insurance marketplace, one of 14 state-run exchanges, went offline after officials learned of errors in federal subsidy calculations.  

Separately, U.S. officials were unable to confirm a USA Today report of new glitches on HealthCare.gov for some website visitors. "The vast majority of users are having a smooth experience during the first day of open enrollment," said administration spokesman Aaron Albright.

An analyst who monitored Saturday's federal and state website operations for consulting firm Leavitt Partners said the Obamacare sites generally appeared to be problem free and capable of hosting vast numbers of consumers.

More than 23,000 people had applied for 2015 coverage by 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT), officials said. There was no word on total traffic but daily volume was expected to rise into next week.

Lower-income adults who are young, black or Hispanic remain a key audience, because large numbers lack health insurance.

Specialists trained to help people apply for coverage at the University of South Florida saw walk-ins as well as applicants who had made appointments. They said the website was responding quickly and easily.

Officials, who have concentrated on producing a smooth experience for consumers, phased in the operation by allowing people to window shop for plans over the past week and then launching on a weekend. The site attracted 1.2 million unique visitors for shopping ahead of Saturday's start, officials said.

But the administration is also hedging its bets by acknowledging potential problems, such as outages, as traffic to the site swells. Officials greatly reduced their overall 2015 target to 9.1 million enrollees from 13 million.

A new Republican majority in Congress in January is committed to repealing or dismantling the healthcare law. The U.S. Supreme Court will also hear a new legal challenge that could end federal subsidies for low-income families through a federal marketplace that spans three-dozen states.

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