Open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, officially launched in Washington state on Tuesday, despite technical problems that forced the state’s website offline for several hours.
State officials compared the website issues to a product launch, and said they were confident people will still sign up for health insurance during the next six months of the open enrollment period.
“This is not news to us in Washington state, the home to Microsoft and Amazon,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “We’re launching today and we understand there might be glitches on the way.”
Wahealthplanfinder.org launched early Tuesday morning, and had to be shut down for maintenance by 8:30 a.m. because people were having inconsistent experiences, officials said. Some people were able to use the website normally, while others were experiencing slowdowns. It was up again by the afternoon.
The problems were not related to the federal government shutdown or because of high traffic, said Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
“Success won’t be determined by first six minutes or six hours,” Marchand said. “It will be defined by the first six months of open enrollment and years beyond that.”
The call center remained open throughout the day, and fielded more than 2,000 calls before 10 a.m., Marchand said.
Technical problems didn’t deter Heather New, 33, from enrolling in a health care plan. She filled out a paper application Tuesday at a clinic in Seattle, and discovered she will be eligible for free Medicaid.
New has been laid off three times in the last five years and is currently a student. In the past, she said she’s skipped medications to pay for rent. “Now I can see a doctor when I need to,” said New.
Washington state is embarking on a widespread campaign to encourage people to sign up for health insurance.
Inslee issued an executive order on Tuesday to direct state agencies to find ways to spread the word, such as mailing information about healthcare along with the 6,000 vehicle registration reminders that are sent out each month.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said 500 assistants have been trained to help people enroll in health insurance plans, and 200 events are planned throughout the county at libraries and community centers.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Constantine said.
The state is also launching a 10-city bus tour on Oct. 16 to sign up people who live in rural areas. An estimated 1 million Washingtonians don’t have health insurance.
UPDATE: Officials announced that the health exchange website will be offline starting at 8 p.m. Tuesday through early Wednesday morning for maintenance.
Watch Tuesday’s press conference below: