First day glitches as Affordable Care Act launches

October 2, 2013

The government may have shut down today, but the Affordable Care Act is marching forward. The state website, Get Covered Illinois, was up by early this morning. And the federal website, where Illinois residents will shop on the marketplace for coverage, was also live. But many people encountered glitches, delays, and error messages.

Jose Galarza is the billing manager at the Infant Welfare Society on the Northwest side of Chicago. They don’t have health navigators in their offices, but staff did receive training to sign people up on the marketplace and the organization is listed on the government’s website as an official resource.

Galarza says his organization has been preparing for today for a long time. This morning he says he was full of nervous energy. “I was up at 4:30 a.m. this morning, thinking about this the whole process and what to expect,” he said.

When he got to the office the first thing Galarza did was to go to the website and try to fill out an application.  He received error messages and never completed the process. Later, he couldn’t get to the application at all and instead received a message that the site was overburned by traffic.

Galarza’s experiences were not unique. Organizations and individuals across the city reported similar problems. Before today’s launch officials said that some aspects of the site, such as the Spanish language version and small business site, wouldn’t be entirely complete.

By 9:30 a.m. Galarza says three people called to say they would come in for help that day.  “I put myself in the client's shoes. If I am excited and I get myself  prepared, and then come into a place like this... and [can’t fill out an application], it would be very frustrating,” he said.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn cautioned against judging the Affordable Care Act based on first day problems.  “We understand with any new program there will be glitches and bumps along the way. When Apple unveils a new device, they may have some minor problems and glitches… but they go forward. They don’t stop and say they will take a year off. They understand how important it is to complete the mission,” said Quinn.

Despite his frustrations, Galarza had a positive message for his clients, one that wasn’t that different from the Governor's. “I would say just take a deep breath. We have until December 15th, which is the deadline for your coverage to start on January 1st,” said Galarza.

According to the state, as of 6:00 p.m. more than 76,653 visitors  had come to the online marketplace.

If you run into a problem or need help navigating the website, you can contact the state hotline at 1-866-311-1119.

Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @shannon_h