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How bad are Obamacare tech hurdles? Real bad, poll finds

Joshua Blake | E+ | Getty Images

Have problems getting online at those new Obamacare insurance sites? You're in good company.

A new survey found that just 1 in 5 people were able to log on to government-run health marketplaces such as HealthCare.gov without running into any technical hurdles.

The rest of those people? They had a lot of trouble, according to new poll conducted this week by uSamp, an online market research firm. Many of those people told uSamp they had experienced more than one type of tech issue on the federal health insurance exchange, which handles enrollments for residents of 36 states, and on the 16 health exchanges being run by individual states.

(Read more: Low-Bamacare numbers)

Out of 830 people who said they had tried to log on to the marketplaces, 50 percent received a message asking them to "wait/try again later."

A total of 38 percent said they had "received an error message." Another 31 percent were "informed that the system was unavailable," while 25 percent were "not able to create an account."

Just 19 percent—158 respondents—"did not encounter any issues," according to uSamp's survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent and was one of the first statistical analyses of users' experiences on the exchanges.

"I tried several times to log on and wasted a lot of time on something I didn't want to do in the first place," a 30-year-old female Obamacare opponent from New York said during the survey. "They should have made sure their website was ready!"

(Read more: Aetna CEO says "so much wrong" with HealthCare.gov site)

The survey results suggested that a person's prior view of the Affordable Care Act might have affected how they viewed their experience of trying to log on to the Obamacare marketplaces. Among Obamacare supporters, 23 percent said they had no trouble logging on. But just 8 percent of Obamacare opponents reported no technical issues.

An ACA opponent, a 30-year-old Kentucky man, said after being unable to log on to a marketplace: "I would describe it as an utter failure and another example of incredible governmental incompetence. It is a calamity and a disaster!"

Perhaps not surprisingly, 76 percent of people who reported having technical problems with the exchanges told uSamp they strongly supported extending the deadline for enrolling in the insurance plans being sold on them.

Under current deadlines, most Americans must have health insurance through their employer, Medicare or Medicaid programs, or from an exchange-sold plan by around Feb. 15, or face a tax penalty in 2014.

(Read more: Obamacare deadlines you need to know)

Justin Wheeler, uSamp's vice president for product innovation and development, said the health marketplaces "have been bombarded" with visitors, "which in a lot of ways is great" because it suggests people are very interested in obtaining insurance coverage to abide by the mandate.

"But at the same time, it's created a lot of issues, and consumers are frustrated," Wheeler said.

Federal officials have put much of the blame for their tech woes on the volume of visitors, while some observers from the tech and insurance communities say the problems are much more complicated than sheer traffic.

Analysis, data and reports by individual insurers suggest that very few people have actually enrolled in coverage from either federal or state exchanges since enrollment began Oct. 1. And if enrollment doesn't pick up the pace, experts have said, the number who sign up for 2014 will be much less than the 7 million enrollees projected by federal officials.

USamp's survey found that out of the 158 people who managed to log on to their Obamacare site without technical problems, just 42 people enrolled in a new plan. Another 109 said they were "still weighing my options," and seven people decided not to enroll.

But Wheeler noted that most people who weren't able to get on the marketplaces said they would try again. "It didn't totally turn them off to it," he said.

(Read more: Young adults face pay little now, pay more later scenario in Obamacare)

A total of 60 percent of respondents said they'd try again "later this week," and another 23 percent said "within the next few weeks." Fifteen percent said they would "wait and hear that the website is working properly to try again."

Just 2 percent said they would not try logging in again.

"It's a start. Like anything new and completely different, there are some kinks which must be worked out," said a 56-year-old Obamacare backer from South Carolina who had trouble logging on. "Be patient, and all will be OK."

Another Obamacare supporter, a 32-year-old Arizona woman, said: "It is annoying because the website is jammed. However, I am sure it will be worth the wait."

Wheeler said that when he read the first media accounts of the technical problems being experienced by the Obamacare marketplace visitors, he was skeptical that the situation was as dire as being portrayed.

"Stories can be sensationalized in the press," he noted. So he was surprised when uSamp's survey backed up those negative headlines. "We operate a lot of websites," Wheeler said. "If our websites were failing like that, we'd be out of business."

As a 29-year-old Minnesota woman who opposed Obamacare told uSamp, "The experience is very frustrating."

"For something that is 'required,' they make it very difficult to comply with the rule," she said.

By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter @_DanMangan.

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