The Obamacare insurance marketplaces got off to a rocky start today, Bloomberg reported, with many websites meant to provide new access to the uninsured seeing delays or breakdowns. New York's exchange was swamped with 2.5 million visitors in the first half-hour, officials there said.

 

The federally run marketplace at www.healthcare.gov - which serves 36 states including Iowa - was unresponsive early today, with messages saying the site was dealing with "a lot of visitors" or was simply "down." Federal officials are aware of the delays and working on fixing them as quickly as possible, said an administration official who wasn't authorized to speak about the issues on the record.

 

In Iowa, state insurance officials testing the system this morning ran into delays and error messages as well, said Tom Alger, a spokesman for the Iowa Insurance Division. Alger counseled patience until the initial rush subsides. 

 

"If you're trying to get coverage for Jan. 1, the deadline you're worried about is not today or tomorrow but Dec. 15," he said. "It's still going to be there for you to get signed up."  

 

The exchanges, created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, struggled as the U.S. faced its first partial government shutdown in 17 years, borne of Republican opposition to the law. The shutdown didn't delay the opening of the new health insurance markets because they are funded largely through mandatory spending not affected by the budget showdown in Congress.

 

Of the 14 states and Washington D.C. that have their own exchanges, only four -Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Colorado and Washington, D.C. - appeared to be up and ready for business between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. New York time, Bloomberg reported.

 

The Obama administration needs some breathing room, said Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, at a briefing with reporters yesterday. She compared the exchanges to Apple Inc.'s new mobile operating system, which the company upgraded days after its debut to correct a flaw.

 

"No one is calling on Apple to stop selling devices for a year or to get out of the business," Sebelius said. "It's a reminder that we're likely to have some glitches. We'll fix them and move on."