BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Unexpectedly heavy first-day traffic strained the website New York set up for residents to shop for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, health officials said Tuesday as technicians worked on glitches that prevented some consumers from getting past the home page.
In the first two hours after going live, "the site received an overwhelming and unanticipated response of 2 million website visits, causing users to have trouble logging in," a statement from the Health Department said. By about 5 p.m., the NY State of Health website had recorded 10 million hits.
While the department said more than 9,000 New Yorkers had shopped for low-cost plans Tuesday, others were greeted with error messages when clicking on links to register as individuals or families. The links for employers, employees and brokers also experienced problems.
"With considerable time to prepare for the exchanges going live, I was expecting more from the state," said Mike McDougall, president of McDougall Communications in Rochester, who ran into repeated error messages as he tried throughout the day to navigate the site's Small Business Marketplace. "Its inability to anticipate heavy traffic on the first day — or accommodate such a couple hours into the process — is a bit disconcerting."
By late afternoon, Donna Frescatore, executive director of the New York State Health Benefit Exchange, said technicians had increased the site's capacity and were "looking into the cause of this abnormally high traffic."
Operators at the state's call center fielded thousands of calls, she said. The problems were not unique to New York as states' online insurance marketplaces that are at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul began a six-month open-enrollment period.
At a public outreach event in Buffalo, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy acknowledged the continuing criticism of Obama's reform, but said New Yorkers were gaining access to plans that are state-certified and cheaper than those offered in the marketplace last year.
"It's not perfect but it's good, it's solid and it will get people into the system," Duffy said of the nation's new health care law, "and if government does what it should do then leadership in Washington on both sides of the aisle will come together and work on the Affordable Care Act so that next year and the year after it gets better and better."
Schuyler Banks, 48, of Buffalo was planning to shop for a plan that would cost less than the $800 per month that the adjunct business instructor and his wife now pay through her job in financial services.
"We're going to sit down to see what our options are," Banks said. "I'm not sure how it's going to help me."
The website offers insurance plans from 16 nonprofit and commercial insurers with premiums as low as $134 a month for the most limited coverage in the Rochester area to nearly $900 for platinum coverage on Long Island.
An estimated 1.1 million uninsured New Yorkers are expected to sign up over three years.
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