Health care exchanges net poor reviews

Poll finds three-fourths of Americans who tried to register for health insurance through ACA experienced problems

Heavy Internet traffic and system problems plagued the launch of the health insurance exchanges last week.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

States’ new health insurance marketplaces, part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), are drawing underwhelming reviews, due in large part to problems experienced by those who have attempted to register, according to an AP-GfK poll (PDF) published Thursday.

Among the 7 percent of Americans who reported that a member of their household has tried to sign up for insurance through the health care exchanges, 73 percent reported problems.

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Overall, just 7 percent of Americans said the rollout of the health exchanges had gone very well or extremely well. Of those with a household member who tried to sign up, only 11 percent said they had succeeded in purchasing health insurance.

Reynol Rodriguez, a computer technician from San Antonio, said he was able to do some comparison-shopping online, but computer glitches kept him from signing up.

"I was very much looking forward to it," said Rodriguez, 51. "That's what this country needs — affordable health care."

Janice Brown, a semiretired travel agent from Prather, Calif., was among those who had a positive experience.

After some initial trouble on the exchange website, Brown got through to a help line and downloaded an application to buy a plan for $1,500 per month for herself and her husband. That's $1,000 less than her current private plan.

"I'm thrilled," said Brown, 61. "The coverage is better. It's fantastic."

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Technology experts say the problems are probably due to a combination of factors: unexpectedly high demand together with possible software flaws and shortcomings in design.

The administration has mainly blamed high volume. The Department of Health and Human Services says it is adding servers — workhorse computer equipment — to the system to handle the volume of user requests.

Thirty-six states are using the federal government's site,, which launched on Oct. 1. The administration of President Barack Obama said the site had already attracted millions of unique visitors, but declined to release enrollment figures, saying that will be done monthly.

Overall, the poll found, 40 percent of Americans said the launch of the insurance markets hasn't gone well, 20 percent said it has gone somewhat well and 30 percent didn't know enough to say. 

While the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that about 7 million uninsured Americans will gain coverage through the online insurance marketplaces next year, the law remains contested — factoring into the ongoing federal government shutdown, with Republicans insisting that any legislation to fund the government should also delay the law's implementation.

Among the public, opinions are also sharply divided. While 28 percent of Americans support the law, 38 percent are opposed to it and 32 percent don't have an opinion either way, the poll found.

Starting next year, the law requires virtually all Americans to have insurance or face a tax penalty after a coverage gap of three months.

Wire services

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