Oct. 03--Forty hours after the federal health insurance marketplace opened, consumers were still having trouble Wednesday logging onto health exchanges in Missouri and Illinois or gaining access to insurance rate quotes.
Many people could not get past the security questions on HealthCare.gov because the drop-down boxes offered no options of questions to choose from.
"We've had no luck getting on the exchange and no luck getting (insurance) rates," said Paul Flotken, managing partner at St. Louis-based Caravus, a health benefits consulting firm. "We can't make comparisons for people. People are saying, 'What's it going to cost?' We can't tell them what it's going to cost."
He was not alone.
Ryan Barker, vice president for health policy at the nonprofit Missouri Foundation for Health, said he and his staff were still attempting to sign onto the health exchange.
"We're not sure if it's quantity of visitors or if they have (technical) issues," Barker said. "We haven't found anybody yet in Missouri who's been able to get through the (application) process. So I hope they're working on it. I assume they are."
At the People's Health Centers on Delmar Boulevard, counselors were still trying Wednesday to enroll at least one person on the troubled federal website, something that had eluded them Tuesday when the federal online marketplace officially opened.
Roger Clemons, 57, of St. Louis had attempted to sign up for insurance at the center Tuesday with the help of certified application counselors, people who are trained to help others enroll in coverage. But there were glitches on the website, and he was sent home.
Clemons returned Wednesday at 10 a.m. to People's, determined to be among the first to get insurance there. He was told the server was still down, so he came back again just before noon.
"I believe I can get (signed up)," he said. "You gotta be positive."
Minutes earlier, counselor Marlin Wheeler had his first success in creating his own marketplace account, sort of. He received an email to verify his account, but when he attempted to log in, he couldn't. Wheeler found it odd, but hoped he could get the next person even further.
Wheeler, who took Clemons into a private room to sign up, clicked the drop-down box and saw a list of security questions. Already more successful than yesterday's attempts, the two continued to the next step -- verifying the account via email.
Wheeler logged Clemons onto his email account and waited for a message from HealthCare.gov to pop up.
At least 20 minutes later, Clemons still had no new message in his inbox.
"I think it'll come through," he said. "We can't just give up."
While waiting, Wheeler decided to make a new marketplace account for himself. When he reached the security questions page, the drop-down boxes were blank.
Wheeler threw his hands up in disbelief. "This right here, for me, makes me want to wait about a month before going in and creating an account," he said.
The counselor told Clemons he was glad they were able to make it as far as they did. Clemons said he would be back again today.
"I'm just not gonna give up," he said.
Julie Brookhart, a regional spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, had said Monday that the marketplace would open with "full functionality" at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
But at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, reporters across the country detailed the apparent glitches in the system. HHS officials repeatedly said the problems had been fixed.
Still, Post-Dispatch reporters were unable Wednesday to create accounts on either the Missouri or Illinois exchanges. Media reports from elsewhere in the country also indicated continued problems with the website.
Traffic at HealthCare.gov reached 6.1 million unique visits in the first 36 hours, HHS spokesman Fabian Levy in Washington said Wednesday in a written statement.
HHS officials insist that many consumers have been able to complete the application process, shop and enroll in insurance plans -- but they have not yet disclosed how many. They say the slowdowns in the system are from high volume -- and not flaws in the system -- and improvements are being made.
They advised consumers not to refresh their browser or leave the website because they will lose their place in line.
Sarah Brown, 36, of St. Louis, who has had health insurance only once in her life for about a year, is excited to see what she's eligible for. She tried periodically throughout Tuesday and Wednesday to get on the marketplace.
But she encountered similar glitches.
"I wanted to post on Facebook, 'Has anybody gotten to the page yet?' but I don't want to start a ruckus," she said.
As of Wednesday evening, her account had been verified, but the federal server was down for maintenance.
Brown said she wasn't worried because there was still plenty of time to sign up. Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Open enrollment closes March 31.
"I'm slightly frustrated because I'm anxious and eager," she said. "I'm not mad yet."