WASHINGTON — For the second straight day, computer problems stymied online visitors hoping to compare health plans or enroll in coverage on state insurance marketplaces under the new health care law.
Federally operated websites and those run by states had similar problems as their computer systems once again struggled to accommodate large numbers of people trying to access the marketplaces at the same time.
In some ways, the delays that persisted Wednesday were good news for President Barack Obama and supporters of his signature domestic policy achievement because the holdups showed what appeared to be exceptionally high interest in the overhauled insurance system.
But if the glitches aren't fixed quickly, they could dampen enthusiasm for the law at the same time Republicans are using it as a rallying cry to keep most of the federal government closed.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which provides the operating systems for 36 state marketplaces, is adding additional capacity to handle the high user volume. Nearly 5 million unique visits and 104,000 web chat requests were logged on the department's healthcare.gov website Tuesday, along with 190,000 calls to its 24-hour telephone call center, at 800-318-2596.
Those numbers “exceeded anyone's expectations,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday. “We were planning on a lot of people being interested. We had no idea of quite how many.”
Sebelius said call center wait times had been reduced on Wednesday, and checks with the system showed this to be true. In separate calls, a reporter reached a human operator in less than 30 seconds.
The federal websites also performed better on Wednesday, but in states such as Florida, many people were once again unable to get past the first step: creating an account necessary to verify eligibility for government subsidies, shop for health plans and enroll for coverage.
Florida's federally run website had been jammed since Tuesday's opening, and Wednesday was more of the same. Consumers at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Miami, where many of the area's uninsured seek medical services, were still having no luck registering on the site.
Paul Salazar, a federally certified application counselor, was stationed with a laptop at the center, hoping to help people learn more about the health care law and apply for coverage through the website. But he ran into the same delays that millions encountered on the first day.
“At first, it was showing, 'Page not found,' ” he said, “and now it's just saying there are too many people on the site and try again later.”
Kentucky's state-run website resolved its computer problems about 3 p.m. Tuesday and enrolled 2,000 of nearly 90,000 site visitors into coverage on the first day, according to state officials.
California's marketplace, Covered California, had 645,000 total visits to its website Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. It received 7,143 applications for insurance, said Covered California spokesman Larry Hicks. In all, its call centers received 19,000 phone calls, he said.
But in Maryland, where the state-run system crashed shortly after its 8 a.m. debut Tuesday, users reported similar problems Wednesday.
“It's pretty much still very, very heavy traffic until it's just bottlenecking the system and making it difficult for us to get in online,” said Sheila Mackertich, vice president of health reform initiatives at HealthCare Access Maryland, which has hired 33 “navigators” to help enroll people into coverage.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.