Millions flock to HealthCare.gov as deadline approaches

Millions of consumers are flooding the online federal healthcare portal ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to purchase insurance that would be effective on Jan. 1, according to the Obama administration.

HealthCare.gov set a record for Internet traffic on Monday, with nearly 2 million people visiting the site and an additional quarter of a million phoning the call centers, according to the administration’s Twitter account.

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An additional 1 million visited the site, and 200,000 called in over the weekend.

Monday was supposed to be the cutoff date for obtaining insurance coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1, but in the latest delay to the law, the administration announced people who have begun the enrollment process would actually have until Christmas Eve to complete it.

The administration sought to downplay the change on Monday, warning consumers that if they waited until Tuesday to begin the enrollment process, they risked missing out on coverage that begins Jan. 1.

However, on Tuesday, the HealthCare.gov Twitter account advertised that “we're helping people complete enrollment today too.”

The website appeared to adequately handle Monday’s traffic demands, although a queuing system was deployed again on Tuesday to handle the high volume. The queuing system instructs users to enter their email address and notifies them to return at a later time.

The Obama administration has been banking on an eleventh hour surge to make up for the time it lost in October and November, when the problem-plagued website led to abysmal enrollment numbers.

President Obama said Friday that more than 500,000 people had selected a plan at HealthCare.gov in the first three weeks of December, bringing the total number of enrollees to more than 1 million.

Still, the Department of Health and Human Services is likely to fall well short of its goal of having 3.3 million people signed up by the end of 2013. Administration officials have said they remain optimistic they’ll reach their goal of 7 million by the end of the second enrollment deadline on March 31.

The administration hasn’t provided a breakdown of who is enrolling, and the demographic makeup is perhaps more important the gross number of enrollees.

The federal and state exchanges need a diverse pool of young and healthy consumers to balance out the higher-risk enrollees. Many believe that these “young invincibles” are holding off on purchasing insurance until the second enrollment periods comes to a close in March.