Health Insurance

Obamacare's fewer fans, more enrollees

ACA open enrollment set to begin

Public opinion of Obamacare has never been worse, even as the government-run health insurance exchanges are running dramatically better than they did when they opened last year.

Just 37 percent of Americans approve of the Affordable Care Act, 1 percentage point less the previous low seen last January, the Gallup public opinion research organization said Monday.

And 56 percent of people disapprove of the ACA, which is 1 point higher than the previous high, Gallup said.

The poll was released two days after open enrollment in ACA insurance plans resumed on the online government Obamacare exchanges.

"In the first two days of open enrollment we have seen 1 million visitors" to, the federally run Obamacare exchange, said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

"We have had 200,000 calls to customer care centers ... and 20,000 of those are to our Spanish-language lines," she said.

Burwell also said more than 100,000 people filled out applications on the first day for insurance coverage on, which serves residents of 37 states. She said she did not know how many people out of that had actually enrolled in coverage.

That is a significant difference from Obamacare's open-enrollment launch one year ago. At that time, a technological meltdown prevented all but a handful of people from creating accounts or applying for coverage, much less signing up for health plans on, and several other exchanges.

A year ago, the site was so hobbled by technical problems that only six people were able to complete the process on opening day.

Counselor Diego Osorio helps Addie Whitaker shop for health insurance as the second round of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act opened at the Greater Prince William Community Health Center in Manassas, Va., on Nov. 15, 2014.
Linda Davidson | The Washington Post | Getty Images

But on Sunday, less the 48 hours after open enrollment resumed, Burwell said, "The vast majority of people coming to the site were able to get on and do what they were intending to do."

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She said that some returning users, who registered on last year, encountered problems with usernames and passwords.

Existing customers were required to create new passwords, but a number of them had trouble doing so.

"In some of those examples, we're tracking them down. That's part of what I said we were going to do and what we want to do," Burwell said.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell.
Getty Images

But Obamacare expert Larry Levitt, an analyst at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, in a tweet on Monday wrote, "100k applications on doesn't say how many will ultimately enroll. But it does mean the system is functional."

Jonathan Wu, CEO of the online consumer research site ValuePenguin, said it appears that is working better this year in large part because the site has been reconfigured to allow "window-shopping" of health plans and prices, without requiring visitors to create an account first. The lack of window-shopping last year was widely criticized.

"I think they really took a load off the servers and a lot of the technology platforms," Wu said. "The performance looks pretty good."

How the state exchanges fared

But among the 14 health insurance exchanges run by the District of Columbia and individual states, Washington state experienced the biggest glitch over the weekend.

Officials at the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange shut down the state's online marketplace Saturday evening after they discovered the site was producing faulty premium tax credit calculations. The issue was resolved by early Sunday morning.

"While it was disappointing to identify this error and take the system offline, we were able to quickly identify the root cause of the issue and prevent a large number of applications from being affected," the exchange officials said in a statement.

But online enrollment went more smoothly in Massachusetts, one of several states that was forced to overhaul its exchange and switched IT vendors after massive technical problems during the 2014 enrollment period.

Maryland Health Connection website.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

"We had about 6,000 people get their eligibility determination on Saturday, and another 3,000 or so as of 2 p.m. yesterday," said Jason Lefferts, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Health Connector. "Generally, the system works as expected, with no large-scale issues. People need to create a new account for the new system and need to pay close attention to the identity-proofing process."

Maryland online launch delayed

In Maryland, which has also revamped its tech-plagued exchange, officials launched open-enrollment events over the weekend where they enrolled more than 200 people. The exchange will not launch online enrollment until this Wednesday, as part of a planned staggered launch.

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"We've done a lot of load testing, testing simultaneous users, and we feel good about it," said Andrew Ratner, director of marketing and outreach for Maryland Health Connection.

Ratner observed that overall, this year's national launch appears to be much more successful. He said that government exchange officials and consumers learned a lot the first time around.

Still, that likely won't make it too much easier, because this year open enrollment is two months shorter, he said.

"We realize we have a difficult challenge in that we have a narrow window," Ratner said. "And we're trying to sign up more people this time."