Since its initial rollout on Tuesday, the system has been plagued by technical glitches and long wait times. Some have tried to offer potential reasons, explaining that the system must communicate with many other systems and that’s further complicated by the fact that the intake its receiving is unique to those online users, according to some professionals interviewed by NPR.

Obama administration officials have repeatedly blamed the issues on the overwhelming demand from users trying to sign up for a health insurance plan.  A challenge that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called “a great problem to have.”

But as NPR noted, many didn’t even get far enough in the process to answer any questions that would determine their plan and tax credit qualifications.

But a lot of folks trying to sign up on Tuesday didn’t even get that far in the process. Hawaii’s exchange didn’t go up, and Maryland’s site was intermittent throughout the day. For millions relying on the federal site, just getting to a registration form was impossible.

“We’re still blocked out. We can’t even get in at this point,” said Travis Middleton, a Houston-based insurance agent who was trying out the site.

The system was swamped. Health officials blame unexpectedly high traffic for the long wait times and crashes — 3 million people visited between midnight and 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, health officials said. The agency overseeing the exchange system says it’s implementing fixes as quickly as possible.

Since Tuesday, I myself have been stuck in Zombieland, with an account that exists but simultaneously doesn’t exist.  I was finally able to create an account after a solid day of unsuccessful attempts, but the system doesn’t recognize that account when I try to log in.  When I finally got through to a phone representative, she tried to explain the problem away as an issue related to the high volume and told me to try logging in again next week.

And earlier today, Miami Herald’s Florida Health Watch tweeted that call center reps say they can’t access system, either.

While the White House has been reluctant to release any numbers on enrollees so far, the numbers being reported through some insurance industry officials haven’t looked so good.

This is different than an Apple product launch

President Obama has defended the messy launch in recent remarks, saying, “Like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the sign-up process along the way that we are going to fix. I have been saying this from the start.”  He also compared the situation to Apple’s recent launch challenges.

Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it. I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t. That’s not how we do things in America.

I expected there to be some glitches, as there always are with a major rollout of something of this magnitude. And I’ll be honest and say that I was even willing to excuse some of it at first. Having been a web developer in the past, I’m probably a little more sympathetic to circumstances like this.

Problems with volume alone are common issues that come up during a large deployment; it’s something that teams of testers usually simulate in what’s typically referred to as load and stress testing.  With all the pre-launch promotion the administration has done about the Affordable Care Act and the exchange website, I can’t imagine that they hadn’t planned and tested for such high volume. (It’s government, OK, maybe I can).  I do find it very concerning that the volume seems to have caught them off-guard.

But as the problems have persisted for days and upon seeing details about some of the specific issues outside of just long wait times, my sympathetic side has all but dwindled to non-existent. I have a hard time comprehending how some of the errors I’ve seen are caused simply by high volume.  And I’m apparently not alone in this skepticism.

The truth of the matter is that the Affordable Care Act mandates that people be insured, eventually (with some exemptions).  This is a law, with consequences for those who don’t comply.  This isn’t an iPhone or some product that we can just complain about when a rollout goes awry.  Most will be required to sign up for a plan or pay a penalty.

So no, this isn’t like an Apple product rollout, Mr. President.  No one is requiring Apple consumers to buy a product or else pay a penalty.

Admittedly, there are still several months before the mandate will kick in.  Perhaps the government will have all the problems with fixed in plenty of time for people to meet the signup deadline.  But unless the administration is open and honest about exactly what the problems are with the system, it will be hard to fix them.  Given that volume alone seems to have caught them by surprise, let’s just say that the whole situation has not exactly been confidence boosting. And confidence is going to be an issue for some people when you require them to do something.


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