The Obama administration is claiming victory in its battle against the technical hiccups of the federal Obamacare website, but users are still having trouble signing up, and are encountering complicated and bizarre instructions to do so.
Judging by responses online, this reporter’s experiences are representative. I had created an account to test the user experience in October, but forgot my password. The site said it would send me an email with instructions on resetting it.
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About half an hour after I requested one, at about 12:30 PM, it hadn’t arrived. A representative at 1-800-F1UCKYO, the Obamacare help hotline, said it could take a couple hours.
It still had not arrived at press time.
Healthcare.gov guidance for users with lost passwords isn’t much help either. "If you can’t remember your password, here are some tips," it says. "It must be between 8-20 characters," "Passwords are case sensitive," and "It must be different than your last 6 passwords."
Those suggestions didn’t help me remember my lost password.
If health insurance customers forget their usernames, they are greeted with equally strange guidance: "It must be between 5-74 characters," "There must be a letter or a number," and "It can contain one of these symbols, as long as it’s not the last character in the username _ . @ / -".
Technology experts have pointed to what they say are confusing or contradictory instructions for resetting one’s password. The problems could cause even more headaches for the administration as it attempts to recover from the website’s disastrous rollout.
"Don’t believe all the status and error messages that you see on the screen," software tester Ben Simo told Consumer Reports of the website’s account activation functions. "They may not always match reality."
Simo has extensively documented technical problems with Healthcare.gov since its launch. He said the signup and password-reset process is "needlessly complicated."
Technical problems with the website have the potential to exacerbate what some observers have dubbed a potential insurance "death spiral."
Since healthier users are more likely than those who need insurance immediately to give up on the process, technical glitches could impede efforts to offset the additional costs to insurers of covering patients with higher health care bills.
White House advisor Jeff Zients, who is leading the administration’s push to get the Obamacare website up and running, said his team is "working with the velocity and discipline of a high-performing private sector company."
Zients said the website can currently handle 50,000 simultaneous visitors, but officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would not confirm reports on Monday that about 100,000 people signed up for insurance through Obamacare exchanges in November.
Insurers are still warning that many visitors to the site will not be able to actually sign up for insurance because the full payment infrastructure is not yet completed.
Others, such as ProPublica reporter Charles Ornstein, were unable to even complete the sign-up process on Monday.