State's health insurance website gets off to rocky start

SEATTLE -- Washington Healthplanfinder ( went live online at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, but four hours later the site was taken down for maintenance after reports it wasn’t working.

“Some were able to go through the application with no issues. Others were experiencing some slowdowns and pages weren’t loading. As opposed to trying to fix the tire as it's getting flat while you’re driving the car, it’s much easier to pull over to the side of the road to get the situation resolved,” said Michael Marchand, communications director for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

At the SeaMar Medical Clinic in South Park, people lined up early Tuesday morning to enroll for health care coverage, but couldn’t.

“For the actual day to come and the website to crash, it’s extremely disappointing.  We’re very much advocating this and want to help people become insured.  So when you can’t use the tools you were promised, it’s disheartening,” said Karrie VanZant, vice president of SeaMar Medical Clinic.

Instead, their customer service reps had to improvise, using paper applications to get information from folks and then making follow-up appointments to come back and finish the enrollment process later.

“We know what launches are like.  We understood there might be some glitches, but we are fully confident that every Washingtonian is going to have a chance to sign up for health care plans in the next several months,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Folks like Charles Jackson say they just can’t wait any longer.

“I have heart disease, high blood pressure and I’m a diabetic.  If I need to be rushed to a doctor or to a hospital, how am I going to pay for it?” asked Jackson.

There is plenty of time to sign up.  Open enrollment goes through the end of March and even if you sign up now, the coverage doesn’t start until Jan. 1.

Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, issued the following statement:

"As of 1:30 p.m. the Washington Healthplanfinder marketplace is back online. Our IT staff took several steps to investigate the earlier issues, complete system modifications and get the website up and running.

"Earlier in the day we determined that consumers attempting to enroll in health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder experienced slow loading times or difficulty completing their application. In order to remedy the issue as quickly as possible, we placed the marketplace into maintenance mode to help identify and correct these issues.

"Please note that some users may still experience intermittent issues completing online applications. We encourage all applicants to save their information and return to should such a situation arise. At 8:00 p.m., the marketplace may be temporarily unavailable as we conduct additional maintenance to improve the current experience. We expect to have more information to share tomorrow morning. Thank you to everyone for their patience as our staff actively works to address the problem.

"We remain committed to providing consumers with the most seamless online experience possible and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.  Customers may also visit a community organization or registered insurance broker to complete a paper application, as well as contact our toll-free Customer Support Center at 1-855-WAFINDER for general questions.  We look forward to working with Washington residents through March 31, 2014 to enroll them in quality health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder.”