Oct. 1—Technical problems appeared to have a bigger effect on the long-awaited launch of enrollment in the insurance coverage expansions authorized by the 2010 healthcare overhaul than a coincidental federal shutdown.

The enrollment websites for the insurance marketplaces and expanded Medicaid programs authorized by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were plagued on their Oct. 1 launch day by widely reported crashes and error rates. The main federal enrollment site, healthcare.gov., was down for most of the day Tuesday. 

Some problems may have stemmed from a larger-than-anticipated number of people seeking information on the new coverage options.

In a White House Rose Garden speech, President Barack Obama said traffic on the main site "exceeds anything that we had expected." More than 1 million visitors logged onto the site before 7 am on the opening day of enrollment, he said.

"This gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans across the country, and that's a good thing," Obama said.

Similar problems were reported at many of the 17 state-run insurance marketplace websites. The federal government is operating marketplaces in the remaining states, either wholly or in part.

Obama administration officials downplayed any effect on the Affordable Care Act provisions launching Tuesday by the shutdown of nonessential government functions, which had resulted from a partisan budget impasse. The shutdown of some government functions began at midnight Sept. 30—just as enrollment in the ACA’s state health insurance marketplaces and expanded Medicaid programs was set to begin.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) "would continue large portions of ACA activities, including coordination between Medicaid and the marketplace, as well as insurance rate reviews, and assessment of a portion of insurance premiums that are used on medical services," stated the administration's assessment of the shutdown’s impact.

Unaffected by any of Tuesday’s events were operations of existing federal healthcare programs. 

For instance, the Medicare program will continue "largely without disruption" during the shutdown, according to the administration report, states will continue to receive funding for Medicaid and for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Among healthcare activities that were affected by the shutdown were healthcare fraud and abuse strike force teams, which are interagency enforcement initiatives located in cities with some of the highest numbers of healthcare fraud. The federal shutdown will similarly result "in the cessation of their operations."

Publication Date: Tuesday, October 01, 2013