As of 5 P.M., Almost 3 Million People Had Visited Healthcare.Gov

Wow!
Healthcare.gov

After midnight on Tuesday, one by one, government websites winked out. Ruled “inessential,” their number included the Library of CongressNASA, and PandaCam.

But one turned on: Healthcare.Gov. The website, a key component of the Affordable Care Act, guides people through the process of buying health insurance. As commentators have pointed out, the site’s design is clean, humane, and conversational — and because many will use it while purchasing health insurance for their family, it may be the first website to have a non-neglible effect on public debate.

And, as of around 5 p.m. today, 2.8 million people had visited it.

It’s a big number. It’s also hard to figure out the scale of. 49.9 million Americans were uninsured and non-elderly in 2011, according to the Department of Health and Human Services — but, obviously, not all visitors today were American, non-elderly, or uninsured. 

We may get a better sense of the program’s reach through its non-digital numbers, in fact. 81,000 have called the ACA’s toll-free number; some 6,000 have requested live chats, according to a statement from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid.

That 2.8 million number, though, which is surely higher now, nearly an hour later: It gives us a sense of what government (and bureaucracy) look like in 2013. It gives us a sense of the scale of civic information dispersal available through the web. When Medicare launched in 1965, for instance, the U.S. population stood at about 194 million people. Imagine about 1 percent of those people examining the same pamphlet, being guided through the same process, at the same time.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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