Calls and Web Traffic Surge Ahead of Obamacare Enrollment Deadline

Americans have to enroll in a federal health exchange by Tuesday in order for insurance to kick in Jan. 1.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

A high volume of callers and users on could mean short delays for some consumers rushing to enroll in coverage by Tuesday’s deadline.

In order for health insurance to kick in on Jan. 1, Americans must be enrolled in the federal health exchange by Tuesday—and demand at the call centers and on the website is “unprecedented,” according to Lori Lodes, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman. While some Americans itching to sign up may experience wait times, CMS says not to panic.

“Any consumer who is trying to get covered ahead of the deadline for January 1 coverage—either at or the call center—will be able to do so,” Lodes said in an emailed statement sent to reporters Monday. “Consumers should not worry, we are ready to help any consumer who is in-line for coverage to complete their enrollment for January 1 coverage.”

Consumers trying to reach the call center may instead be asked to leave their contact information and receive a call-back later, which also happened last year. CMS will start reaching back out to those callers on Wednesday, but they’ll still be able to receive coverage starting New Year’s Day.

Some may be asked to wait a “short time” before being able to log in to their account or create one. Average wait times to log in to the site Monday afternoon were less than two minutes, Andy Slavitt, CMS acting administrator, tweeted at about 1:45 p.m. That’s a far cry from when first opened for business in 2013, when users faced technical glitches and administration officials faced harsh criticism for the marketplace’s bumbled rollout.

By 9 a.m. Monday, the call center had received 34,000 calls, slightly more than it garnered at that point on Dec. 15, 2014. More than 145,000 consumers were looking at at 12:30 p.m. Monday, which is about 20,000 more than that day last year.

On Friday, CMS announced that several new tools—such as a prescription-drug lookup, doctor and facility lookup, and out-of-pocket cost calculator—would be available to all users. Jan. 31 is the final day of the third open-enrollment season, which has so far enrolled more than 1 million new customers and seen 1.8 million people come back to the marketplace for coverage, CMS announced last week.

In October, the Health and Human Services Department said it expected 10 million Americans to be enrolled in the exchanges and paying their premiums by the end of 2016. Of the nearly 10.5 million uninsured Americans likely eligible to qualify for a marketplace plan, HHS estimated that more than 1 in 4 would enroll, as the department acknowledges the uninsured may be harder to reach this go-round.