Web site sags on opening day

California Obamacare web siteCalifornia’s health exchange web site struggled with the flood of insurance shoppers on day 1, with the enrollment section being taken down overnight for maintenance.

“To ensure that consumers will have a good experience going forward, we will take down the enrollment section on our website from 9 p.m. PDT until early tomorrow,” Covered California posted on its social media outlets Tuesday evening, Oct. 1.

The maintenance appeared to be unscheduled and unexpected.

Covered California tweeted that the web site, which has been running throughout the year, had logged 5 million visits by mid-afternoon: “Our website averaged 5,000 page hits per minute and peaked at 16,000 per min. today.”

(Update: State officials backtracked, later stating that unique website visitors totaled 514,000 on the first day.)

The overnight shutdown “will help optimize performance for the millions of people expected to log into the enrollment function in future,” said the Obamacare marketplace, thanking users for their patience.

Users were reporting slow loading times with the application section of the Covered California web site. There had been fears, in fact, that the web site might not be ready for Obamacare opening day, Oct. 1, but the insurance exchange’s board was assured last week that all systems were go.

The federal HealthCare.gov site buckled under the crush of 3 million-plus visitors by midday. New York reported a partial crash of its web site due to demand. North Carolina also faced serious signup glitches.

“That gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans around the country,” President Obama said of the crush of website traffic Tuesday. “And we’re going to be speeding things up in the next few hours to handle all of this demand that exceeds anything that we had expected.”

Despite the overnight pause in enrollments, Covered Califorina tweeted: “We are thrilled at the response!”

The Sacramento Bee reported web site problems early in the day, echoing complaints on social media:

A click on the “start here” button leads to a page that takes several minutes to load. When the page does load, its formatting appears to be faulty, and clicking through to the next step brings additional delays.

“We’re making fixes as we go along,” said a spokesman for Covered California, citing “very high volume.”

Not surprisingly, some frustrated users were quick to echo criticisms that the Obamacare opening was being botched:

“You’ve had how long to prepare for this? Knowing that millions of people would be pouring into the website,” one disgruntled user commented.

The majority of comments on Covered California’s Facebook page acknowledged the challenges in preparing for massive traffic.

“Please remember that you have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014,” the official Facebook message about the shutdown said.

Other parts of the Covered California site were to remain live.

Applicants for Obamacare insurance in California are expected to navigate through about 30 web pages, most of them short.

CEO Peter Lee noted earlier on Covered California’s opening day that “our phone lines are humming, our website is live.”

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