After a rocky launch earlier this month, HealthCare.gov was again without key functionality after a Verizon network failure on Sunday, Oct. 27. The outage, which lasted hours, took down the insurance application part of the site, making it impossible for users in all 50 states to apply online for coverage or determine eligibility for federal subsidies. The outage came just days before Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' planned testimony before a House of Representatives committee, amid calls by some legislators for her resignation.
Officials from both the Obama administration and Verizon said they did not know exactly how long it would take to resolve the issue, but vowed they would restore functionality “as soon as possible.”
The outage is just the latest problem to plague the federal health insurance portal since its launch on Oct. 1. One Obama official predicted that the site would be functioning as intended by early December, in time for a Dec. 15 deadline for those looking to receive coverage starting Jan. 1.
Given the many problems with the launch, some policymakers have begun pushing legislation that would extend the deadline for Americans to apply for health-care coverage. The current open enrollment period was extended to March 31, a date Obama said will not be further extended. But Sens. Joe Manchin III and Jeanne Shaheen are actively promoting legislation that would extend that deadline. Uninsured people who do not purchase coverage by the deadline face fines.
“My goal is to fix the Affordable Care Act to make sure those people can get that access to health care,” Shaheen said on CBS’s Face the Nation. With all the glitches and downtime, it’s only fair to extend the deadline, she said.
Glitches were expected all along, Obama said during a press conference on Oct. 1, upon initial launch of the website. “It’s been a long time coming, but today, Americans who have been forced to go without insurance can now visit HealthCare.gov and enroll in affordable new plans that offer quality coverage,” Obama said on Oct. 1. “That starts today and people will have six months to sign up.”
That six-month window is quickly shrinking as technical issues and now downtime limit public access. Contractors blamed the administration for not doing enough testing before the launch, also pointing to a last-minute design change that requires users to create an account before browsing health-care policies. Minnesota, which runs its own exchange, was one of the few state portals not to crash on launch day, a fact officials attributed to their decision not to require users to create an account before browsing plans.