Over the weekend of October 19-20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began unveiling its effort to fix Healthcare.gov, the home for the federal insurance marketplace. Part of that was a blog post soliciting comments from folks who have tried the site.
"Most importantly, we want to hear from you, and make sure that your experience with HealthCare.gov is a positive one. If you have any comments, either complimentary or critical, please let us know by sharing your feedback at https://www.healthcare.gov/connect/. We've already heard so many stories of individuals getting health insurance for the first time, and we are dedicated to making that possible for all Americans."
The Obama administration has not always been transparent about Healthcare.gov: A case in point is how HHS has withheld the number of people who have been able to successfully enroll. But in this instance, the administration allowed comments to the blog post to be seen by all (after moderating them and removing identifying information). Commenters' identities were not verified and they are identified by whatever name they entered.
As of yesterday afternoon, we counted more than 500 comments. My colleague Mike Tigas pulled them from the site, and I've been analyzing the feedback.
"Repeal Obamacare," several commenters wrote, making political statements based on the website's problems.
Some urged patience: "Turn off the TV and stop listening to the naysayers," Darlene wrote. "Its [sic] better to wait patiently and get great health care than to get emotional and frustrated and wind up with NO healthcare..."
Others, like Kim, offered to help: "I have a home office and am VERY tech savvy. I would like to be able to help in whatever way I can."
By and large, however, the feedback has been negative. While some comments root for the site's failure, many are from people who've tried to use the site without success. Some pose specific questions; others voice general frustrations. Because their identities and contact information isn't listed (for understandable reasons), there was no way to verify their stories.
The problems touch people from all over the country. The posts below have been trimmed for length, but the original grammar and spelling are used (even if they contain errors).
Wrongly Listed As Jailed
"Website said my wife and I were ineligible due to current incarceration. We have never been arrested in our lives, both 63!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!," Fred wrote on Oct. 21.
Health Problems Made Worse
"I have a pre-existing condition .... a-fib.....and actually had an attack after getting frustrated with this confusing mess," Bill wrote on Oct. 22. (A-fib refers to atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heartbeat.)
Daughter is Not a Daughter Anymore
"I am having difficulty with my account," Joanna wrote on Oct. 22. "It appears that my daughter was added twice so that I now have two daughters with the same name and social security number. I am unable to delete one of them. Also, the drop down menu that relates to what relationship someone is to another is faulty. I choose that my husband is the father of our daughter and that my daughter is a dependant [sic] to me and my husband. What it actually shows though is that my daughter is a stepdaughter to her father and that my daughter is now both my husband and I's parent. "
"I can sign in ... but cannot see the plans available to me — they claim my identity has been compromised. So frustrating!" Rhonda wrote on Oct. 22.
Going in Circles
"I have been trying to get into the system since the beginning," Marion wrote on Oct. 22. "I have created 3 different accounts and am not able to log into any of them. When I request the user ID or to reset the password it throws me back to the log in page where I can't login because it says I don't have an account. When I try to reset the password with the email I used it, I never get an email to validate my account. I won't let me create another account telling me I already have an account. I feel like I keep going around in circles. Will I ever be able to set up an account? "
"I've now filled out that same application multiple times and even though there are hitches and glitches, I do manage to get to the point where I should be able to shop," wrote one person whose name is listed as "likebillmurrayingroundhogday, on Oct. 21. "However, once at that point, there is no place for me to shop! The system just kicks me back to starting the application again. It's like "Groundhog Day."
"After many attempts I did manage to set up an account with a log in and password," Francine wrote on Oct. 23. "NOW when I'm about to get to the meat and potatoes and go shopping a red box pops up and says "you can only do one application per state". WTF? Several times I was able to find a page that asked me if I was a Florida resident with a yes and no button and it appears that after the site drops off my computer it moves this from yes to no. I can no longer find this page, so this site has BLOCKED me."
Circular Security Questions
"I get an error message after I answer the security questions that say the answers can't be the same, but they aren't the same. If people are getting past this error message, I would like to know how," Samara wrote on Oct. 20.
Name Not Unique
"I've been trying to create an account since program inception (October 1). I continually get a variety of crazy messages, the most recent being that I could not create an account because my first name, last name and email address are not unique!" Tom wrote on Oct. 20. "What the devil does that mean? Most people use their names in their email address, so it's never going to be "unique." I need health insurance for my 61-year-old wife and the Marketplace appears promising. Clean this mess up!"
Insurance Agents Stymied
"I am insurance agent also President of Insurance Agency (50+ Insurance Agents plus 30 employees)," John wrote on Oct. 21. "We have 1000's of customers who want to sign up for health insurance and most will be subsidized. We have tried everyday since 10-1-2013. Maybe 2 applications have been processed. I have spent well over 250K getting ready for the ACA roll-out. My agency has been writing individual and small group insurance for over 25 years. We have marketed the uninsured and lower income. We have held events to get pre-enrollment applications. We just want to help people get the insurance they need. What can you do to help me?"
Application Counselor Frustrated
"I am employed as a Certified Application Counselor in Scranton, Pennsylvania and I have not been able to successfully assist the approximately 50 people that visited me looking for assistance," Suzanne wrote on Oct. 21. "I created an account for myself prior to October 1st to walk myself through the system and have not been able to successfully log in since October 1st. Needless to say, I am as frustrated as the consumers who visited me are. I hope the log in situation is fixed soon."
ProPublica fellow Mike Tigas contributed to this report.
To brush up on Oct. 24's congressional hearings, see Charles Ornstein's quick guide.