High volume spurs Healthcare.gov to use 'waiting rooms'

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include a tweet from the Department of Health and Human Services that includes early open enrollment sign-up figures.

In a sign the site is grappling with a large volume of customers, Healthcare.gov has been regularly placing potential enrollees in online “waiting rooms” since open enrollment began last week. 

Such virtual holding areas are being deployed earlier than usual this year, the Wall Street Journal reports, as sign-up surges are typically associated with open enrollment deadlines. Indeed, a recent tweet from the Department of Health and Human Services indicates enrollment volume is high:

For some enrollment assisters, the delays have meant they must get creative--opening up the site on multiple tabs to allow it to load or helping consumers pick a plan then return later to complete enrollment, for example, the WSJ adds.

The online waiting rooms are designed to control the number and type of Healthcare.gov transactions during peak volume periods to avoid a system crash, the article notes. The federal health coverage enrollment site, which more than half of states use, is no stranger to meltdowns--it was beset by glitches in its early days that a government watchdog group later blamed on poor management and inadequate leadership.

Delays on Healthcare.gov have been troublesome for Kentuckians in particular, FierceHealthPayer has reported, as this is the first year they are using the federal site instead of their homegrown portal, Kynect. And in Minnesota, the state’s call center was jammed by malicious robocalls that left consumers on hold for hours on the first day of open enrollment.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officials told the WSJ that teams have identified, and expect to soon fix, an intermittent issue with one component of Healthcare.gov. They said the site has used waiting rooms periodically, but denied characterizations that they were constant, as one enrollment group official told the publication.

In the days leading up to open enrollment, federal health officials and President Barack Obama rolled out advertising campaigns and outreach efforts targeted at specific demographics and regions--efforts complicated by news of rising premiums. But the WSJ notes that the government and enrollment groups alike area actually saving more aggressive sign-up pushes for after today’s election.