Feds set repairs on glitchy health care website

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bedeviled by technology glitches that frustrated millions of consumers, the Obama administration is taking

down its health overhaul website for repairs this weekend.

Enrollment functions of the healthcare.gov site will be unavailable during off-peak hours this weekend, the Health and Human

Services Department said Friday. The website will remain open for general information.

Technology problems overwhelmed the launch of new health insurance markets Tuesday, embarrassing the administration just when

the health care law was supposed to be introduced to average consumers.

"Americans have seen once again that Obamacare is not ready for prime time," Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House

Republican, said in a statement. "A dysfunctional website is the least of that law's problems."

The administration is putting the best face

on the situation, noting the unexpectedly strong interest from millions

of consumers.

"Americans are excited to look at their options for health

coverage, with record demand in the first days of the marketplaces,"

said the release announcing the planned fixes.

The statement was headlined: "Health Insurance Marketplace Open for Business - Week One Success."

The state-level markets were designed to be the gateway to health insurance for people who don't have access to coverage on

the job. Middle-class consumers will be able to buy government-subsidized private plans, while the poor and near-poor will

be steered to Medicaid in states agreeing to expand the program.

Federal and state websites experienced

problems this week. Some states, including Maryland, have also announced

they are scheduling

repairs.

Credit card companies, banks and other online service providers regularly take down websites for repairs. That may also become

a feature of the new insurance program. The HHS release did not provide a specific schedule for this weekend's repairs.

The federal site, which serves 36 states,

drew millions of users, an indication of strong consumer interest. Yet

many people

were unable to get on the site and others encountered glitches

that prevented them from successfully completing their applications.

Many encountered a screen that told them to wait, and they did, sometimes for hours. Refreshing the screen only sent them

to the back of the line.

Quite a few got hung up trying to create

security questions to protect their accounts. The drop-down menus

providing the questions

would not populate. As a result, consumers could not advance

through the application process and learn if they were eligible

for a tax credit to help pay premiums, much less pick a plan.

Some who did make it through were timed out because they took too long comparing plans.

At the end of the first day at most a handful of people had managed to successfully enroll through the federal site.

However, by Friday, enrollments seemed to be picking up — though not yet at desired levels. The administration is not releasing

numbers.

"We are pleased that enrollment for health care coverage through the new marketplaces is picking up," the Blue Cross and Blue

Shield Association said in a statement. "We expect enrollment to continue to increase."

The so-called Blues are major players in the individual insurance market, but some smaller insurers have yet to see any new

customers.

By Monday, "there will be significant improvements in the online consumer experience," HHS said.

The upgrades include extra capacity for more

users to get into the system, more technicians working round-the-clock

to fix

problems, and new pathways to get to the application faster. No

details were given. Call centers are also getting more staff

and HHS said wait times are now down to less than a minute.

The administration previously announced it is adding equipment to handle the high volume of users. Now it looks like software

fixes are also needed.

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to enroll for coverage that starts Jan. 1.