The government website where uninsured people in 36 states are expected to sign up for health insurance is going down during "off-peak" hours this weekend to correct a variety of glitches, the Obama administration announced late Friday afternoon.
Healthcare.gov opened for business Tuesday morning but was plagued by glitches that prevented many users from purchasing insurance. President Barack Obama and his deputies pleaded for patience, saying the site would be improved soon and that its problems stemmed from a large number of visitors flooding the site. The site has logged 8.5 million unique visitors since Tuesday, and the 24/7 call support center fielded 406,000 calls over the same period.
But the Obama administration won't say how many people actually purchased insurance in the exchange's first week. The Congressional Budget Office estimated 7 million people would sign up on the exchanges during its six-month enrollment period that ends March 31, and millions of them must be young and healthy in order for the system to work.
"To make further improvements to the system, we will be taking down the application part of the website for scheduled maintenance during off-peak hours over the weekend," Health and Human Services' Joanne Peters said in a statement. "The enhancements we are making will enable more simultaneous users to successfully create an account and move through the application and plan shopping process. During the scheduled maintenance, the call center will still be available to assist consumers throughout the night. We expect that Monday, less than a week after the Marketplace opening, there will be significant improvements in the online consumer experience."
Many potential customers in the 36 states where the exchanges are run by the federal government received a variety of error messages that told them the system was overloaded on Tuesday. Some state-run exchanges, like those in Hawaii and Maryland, were down entirely. New York’s exchange was put out of commission after 10 million people flooded the site.
The exchange where consumers can purchase coverage and see if they qualify for a federal subsidy is the centerpiece of Obama’s 2010 health care law. Uninsured people will face a fine in 2014 on their taxes if they don’t purchase coverage.