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Marketplace Meltdown


The health insurance marketplaces opened more than a week ago, and consumers are still having trouble setting up accounts and signing up for coverage.

And it seems officials were warned ahead of time that the main portal – – had technical problems, reports The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Amy Goldstein and Sandhya Somashekhar. Officials have said that 8.6 million unique visitors had logged on in the first three days the site went live and that up to 250,000 were on at one time.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

White House strategist David Simas told The Post: “This is a question of volume and demand exceeding anything that people anticipated. I am confident people are working through these issues. . . . It is steady improvement.”

Washington Post tech policy reporter Timothy E. Lee explains why the health care exchanges were created and why they are plagued with technical problems.

Lee writes in The Switch that what it comes down to is a lot of traffic for a system that’s operating on a tight deadline and a tighter budget.

“Last week was probably one of the highest-traffic weeks the site will ever experience, and Web sites often discover unexpected problems during their first big traffic spikes,” Lee writes. “Early users of Twitter remember the ‘fail whales’ that popped up regularly on the site as Twitter struggled to accommodate surging demand.”

Lee added that since the rush is over servers might be able to handle the traffic. But if the system is flawed, the interruptions may persist.

Okay, the numbers were high – much higher than officials expected -- but this was too important not to be as prepared as possible for launch.

Given all the criticism about the health care exchanges, the administration needs to fix the portal — and soon.

Color of Money Question of the Week

I want to hear about your experiences trying to get onto your state marketplace site or Here’s the Color of Money Question of the Week: What’s been your experience trying to access the health care exchange? Send your responses to Put “Marketplace Meltdown” in the subject line and include your full name, city and state.

Furloughed Federal Employees Filing for Unemployment

Thousands of federal employees affected by the government shutdown have applied for unemployment benefits, reports The Post’s Luz Lazo.

Across the country, federal workers are trying to bridge the gap in their finances while waiting to be able to get back to work. In the District of Columbia, 9,000 furloughed federal employees applied for unemployment benefits. In Maryland, 14,000 claims have been filed.

The House has passed legislation to provide back pay to the roughly 800,000 federal workers furloughed because of the budgetary deadlock, The Post’s Eric Yoder reports. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

The Labor Department has issued a fact sheet for federal employees considering applying for unemployment benefits. But if workers who have received unemployment aid get back pay they will have to repay the unemployment benefits they received during the shutdown.

On Tuesday, President Obama said he supported back pay for workers. “That’s how we’ve always done it,” he said referring to past government shutdowns.

Live Online Chat Friday

This week’s Color of Money Live online discussion will be on Friday, Oct. 11, at 11 a.m. ET.

Join me to talk about the government shutdown and the health-care marketplaces or to ask a personal finance question.

If you can’t join me live, you can send in your questions before the chat.

The Fallout from the Shutdown

Here’s a roundup of some stories about the federal shutdown:

-The shutdown, the IRS and your taxes

-Shutdown could slow mortgage lending

-Lockheed Martin furloughing fewer workers

-This cancer patient’s treatment is on hold because of the government shutdown

Some Lawmakers Refuse Their Pay

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “What do you think of the lawmakers refusing to take their paychecks during the shutdown?”

Since Monday, more than 200 lawmakers have said they will donate or forgo their pay during the government shutdown, reports The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Reader B renda Taylor of Berkeley, Calif., writes: “I believe the lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, should obviously refuse to accept their paychecks, since this was their fault for not coming to an agreement before the shutdown date. As a Democrat, I never blamed the Republicans, but both parties are now at fault in this matter.”

Karen Brousseau of Honolulu says: “When lawmakers cause a shutdown, the only ethical thing to do is to refuse pay or donate their own pay to those in need. This is not rocket science.”

Estella Banuelos of Chula Vista, Calif., explains how she’s been affected by the showdown over the shutdown: “I’ve been a civil servant for 30 years and have raised and supported my two sons with this career (as a single, one-income mother), and I’m stressed with knowing I won’t make my rent and pay my bills the month of October 2013, unless I’m back at work serving my country and given back pay.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to



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