Pennsylvania’s Health Insurance Exchange Is Open (Sort Of)

Expect glitches if you try to log on today.

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Despite the first government shut down in 17 years, which is actually, for real, happening, the much anticipated health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses went online this morning on schedule, as per the timeline outlined under the Affordable Care Act. Since Pennsylvania opted for a federally run marketplace, ours is hosted entirely on Healthcare.gov, the government’s central hub for health insurance information. Other states, like New York, which opted to run its own exchange, have individualized state-based programs managed through their own websites.

Beyond the basics—that the exchanges would provide a platform for comparing apples-to-apple insurances plans across a handful of providers—how they would actually function (i.e. What kinds of information would they require, and how would they aggregate data across agencies? And etc.) has been the subject of speculation for much of the past year. Some questions were finally answered just last week when the Obama administration released preliminary numbers showing how much certain plans would cost under the exchanges in various states.

Now that the big day is finally here, we can at last see the fruits of the government’s months of labor—well, sort of. In the several attempts I’ve made to peruse the exchange the morning, it’s only worked once, with error messages citing high traffic volume cropping up every other time I’ve tried to load it. But I was expecting this: In reporting extensively on Obamacare for our May Top Doctors issue with my colleague Sandy Hingston, we listened to expert after expert warn that there’d be a lot of hiccups when this thing launched, the same kind of service disruptions and bugs you’d expect to see in a new website, only on a massive, coast-to-coast, very public scale. So if you’re trying to check it out this morning, you’ll need to persevere.

The good news is, we don’t all need to bum rush the system at once. If you plan to shop for insurance through the exchange, you have until March 31st to do so, when the open enrollment period ends. Plans will kick in as soon as January 1st.