Technical glitches and heavy web traffic thwarted Arkansans who tried to enroll in the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace on its opening day Tuesday, but state insurance officials said high interest in the marketplace was an encouraging sign.
The problem was with the federal government’s marketplace website, which typically would allow a visitor to get only so far before giving this error message:
"The system is down at the moment. We’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later."
"You go through all this training for this, and then you can’t put it in action, so it’s frustrating," said Brandi Hawkins of Jacksonville, one of about 500 guides trained to help Arkansans enroll in the marketplace.
Hawkins was on hand at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service for a kickoff event for the marketplace on Tuesday. By late afternoon, more than 200 people had dropped by. Though the visitors were not able to enroll, they were able to ask the guides questions and receive printed materials.
"They got paper applications, they looked at plans, they discussed what their options are," said Heather Haywood, spokeswoman for the state Insurance Department.
Guides also gave visitors a toll-free phone number they can call to enroll and instructions on how they can apply online whenever the website is working.
Leon Brooks of North Little Rock said he went to the Clinton School even after hearing about the web problems because he had questions he wanted to ask. He said he found the visit "very helpful."
"I found out that, well, it’s affordable," he said.
Cynthia Crone, the Insurance Department’s director of planning for the insurance marketplace, said glitches in the system were not unexpected. She said she doubted that a delay would discourage prospective enrollees from participating in the insurance exchange.
"I’d like to think it’ll make them want it even more. If they couldn’t get it today, they’ll want even more to see what’s there," Crone said.
The Arkansas Health Connector site had received 17,500 hits by late Tuesday afternoon, and a call center at the Insurance Department was inundated with calls, Haywood said.
Some 500,000 Arkansans are expected to buy insurance through the marketplace, about half of them under the so-called private option, the state’s plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to pay for private insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Others can obtain federal subsidies to help them buy insurance through the marketplace if they earn no more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
The federal Affordable Care Act requires nearly every American to have health insurance starting in January.
Insurance coverage purchased through the marketplace will be effective Jan. 1.
The enrollment period for coverage that begins on that date runs through Dec. 15.