×

Obamacare enrollment: Traffic spikes on HealthCare.gov's first day for 2017 plans

The prices might be higher, but so were the number of shoppers Tuesday.

The major Obamacare exchange HealthCare.gov, which began open enrollment for 2017 individual insurance plans Tuesday, was handling 50 percent more applications for eligibility compared to the first day of enrollment last year.

U.S. Health and Human Services Department Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Tuesday afternoon tweeted that more than 60,000 applications had been filed on federally run HealthCare.gov in the first six hours of enrollment.

HealthCare.gov, which serves residents of 39 states, was experiencing some slow-downs in processing customers as a result of that level of interest.

"As has been the case on previous high-volume days, customers can visit HealthCare.gov and view plans but some are periodically experiencing a waiting room before they log in," said HHS spokeswoman Marjorie Connolly.

"Throughout this open-enrollment period, as we have in years past, we'll continuously work to ensure consumers visiting HealthCare.gov have a quick and easy experience signing up for quality, affordable coverage."

Obamacare plans for 2017 have, on average, sharply higher premiums, or monthly enrollment charges, than they do for the current year. The average "benchmark" plan on HealthCare.gov — which is the second-lowest cost silver-level plan sold in a given geographic region — is rising by 25 percent next year. Silver plans, the most popular type of Obamacare plans, cover roughly 70 percent of their customers' health costs.

Federal health officials point out that most customer of Obamacare exchanges, about 85 percent of them, qualify for financial aid in the form of tax credits that will reduce their premium payments. And many people who buy individual health plans outside of those marketplaces would also qualify for such aid if they used the government-run exchanges, officials say.

However, people whose incomes are not between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level do not receive Obamacare subsidies, even if they use the exchanges.

Open enrollment runs through Jan. 31. Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans must have some form of health insurance coverage — such as through a job, Medicare, Medicaid, or Obamacare plans — or be subject to a potential tax penalty.

The Obamacare exchanges signed up nearly 12 million people in individual plans last year. That is just a small fraction of the people who get coverage through an employer.