HHS Predicted Obamacare Exchange Sign Up Would Take 28 Minutes

White House approved HHS 28 minute estimate for Obamacare exchange application time in April

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius / AP
October 24, 2013

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimated consumers would take an average of 28 minutes to sign up for Obamacare, according to a notice the agency sent to the White House in February.

The American Action Forum revealed Thursday that HHS earlier this year predicted consumers would need less than 30 minutes to complete online applications for the health care insurance marketplace. HHS reported those projections to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The process has not proven so easy in practice. Since its rollout on Oct. 1, the Obamacare exchange has been plagued with technical issues and "glitches," resulting in few enrollees and long wait times. Obamacare "success stories" applaud the rare cases in which people were able to sign up over a period of several days.

"After more than two months of review, the government estimated it would receive more than 3 million individual responses and it would take the public 1.4 million hours to complete the required paperwork," said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy for the American Action Forum, in a blog post on the group’s website.

"In other words, HHS assumed the public would spend just 28 minutes to complete the ‘Online Application,’" he said.

"HHS also estimated these burden hours would cost no money," Batkins added.

When using the exact estimates that 3,035,433 responses would take 1,480,944 hours to complete, the time increases slightly. Dividing the number of total hours by the number of applications equals 0.48 hours, or precisely 29.2 minutes.

"According to the actual accounts of navigating and applying for insurance, the time spent online has ranged from seven hours to several days," Batkins said.

HHS sent the estimate to the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Feb. 5, 2013, and the White House approved it on April 30.

The enrollment process includes 90 pages of applications, which HHS predicted could be completed in less than a half hour.

The eligibility application requires standard personal information, such as name, address, income, and Social Security number, though the government assures family members of applicants that their immigration status will not be solicited. The privacy section states: "We won’t ask any questions about your medical history. Household members who don’t want coverage won’t be asked questions about citizenship or immigration status."

The eligibility application also includes an option for voter registration and asks, "Does anyone in the household want to register to vote?"

Five days before the launch of, President Obama praised the website, comparing the consumer experience to making a purchase on Amazon.

"Visit," he said on Sept. 26. "It’s a website where you can compare and purchase affordable health insurance plans, side by side, the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak, the same way you shop for a TV on Amazon. You just go on and you start looking. And here are all the options."

According to reports, just days before it was set to launch, the website crashed with just 100 people using it, and IT executives warned that the website was not ready.

Three weeks into the exchange, Consumer Reports is advising Americans to stay away from, due to its technical problems.

"It is clear there were many missteps with the rollout of," Batkins said, "but perhaps the first mistake was assuming it would take less than 30 minutes to complete the online application."

Published under: Obamacare