But when Tuesday arrived, Maryland’s Web site stumbled badly. People couldn’t log on, forcing state officials to delay the opening of the exchange for four hours. Even after it opened, many frustrated users were unable to create accounts, the first step in buying coverage. All told, fewer than 100 people have managed to enroll.
Four days after the launch of insurance exchanges — a centerpiece of Obama’s signature health-care law — the online marketplaces in Maryland, several other states and the federal government continue to have problems. Supporters and critics of the law, also known as Obamacare, are maneuvering to use the technical difficulties to their own advantage.
Defenders say the glitches are caused by higher-than-expected traffic, an indication of the tremendous demand for coverage among the uninsured. They say there is plenty of time to fix the sites; the insurance coverage doesn’t start until Jan. 1. Skeptics say the exchanges might have serious underlying flaws that are not related to traffic volume or easily resolved.
Late Friday, officials at the Department of Health and Human Services said they planned to take down their site, HealthCare.gov, to make fixes during off-peak hours over the weekend. During these maintenance periods, they said, people will still be able to get information through a federal call center. The officials said 8.6 million people had looked at the HealthCare.gov site from Tuesday morning through midnight Thursday. They declined to say how many people have enrolled.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called the decision to take the exchange offline for the weekend proof that its launch had been “an unmitigated disaster.”
“What the administration wanted to dismiss as simple glitches have turned out to be a system-wide failure,” he said in a statement. “This announcement is more proof we need to delay the law and provide basic fairness, just as Republicans have called for.”
A few state exchanges are performing well. Connecticut officials threw themselves a party after a successful second day. Kentucky officials had a yellow sheet cake with “100,000” in white icing to mark the number of people who had completed the pre-screening process Wednesday.
In Maryland, some of the problems appear tied to requiring users to set up personal accounts before allowing them to compare health plans and shop for coverage. That feature is creating enormous bottlenecks and blocking users from going any further, officials said.