HealthCare.gov struggles under surge of last-minute demand

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HealthCare.gov, for a second time on Monday, experienced technical difficulties that left some visitors unable to access the site.

While the administration said the problem was resolved quickly on Monday afternoon, it shows how the website is having trouble keeping up with the last-minute rush of people seeking coverage before the March 31 deadline.

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The website was down briefly earlier on Monday, and early in the afternoon, users trying to create accounts for the first time were unable to access application and enrollment tools, the administration said.

“The tech team is working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” an official said as the problem persisted. “The Data Services Hub is still fully operational. Users already in system remain able to complete enrollment.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged there was "a technical problem that the tech team is on" but said the issue was "fast moving," and he did not have details of the issue. 

"When there's a problem like this, it gets addressed," Carney said.

The administration official said there are a record number of people trying to access the website right now — more than the 100,000 the site was built to handle concurrently.

Later, officials said the problem had been resolved.

Monday's problems will bring back dark memories for the administration of the healthcare website's launch in October. Technical problems at the time repeatedly left visitors unable to enroll for healthcare and contributed to poorer-than-expected enrollments that led the administration to downgrade its expectations to 6 million enrollees. 

The administration now says it has reached that number, and the crush of people in the system on Monday and over the weekend suggests it could reach 7 million enrollees, the initial expectation of the Congressional Budget Office.

The White House spokesman would not attribute the technical problems to a surge in interest but said consumers already in the system would be able to complete their enrollment.

Carney said that despite "a lot of focus on glitches," that there had been "a remarkable story since the dark days of October and November," when the website was regularly inaccessible due to technical problems.
 
"No one expected us to come back from the brink," Carney said.
 
Last week, the administration announced it would extend the March 31 enrollment deadline for those who tried to sign up but couldn’t complete the process on time. The administration is taking to Twitter to tell those experiencing problems that they’ll be accommodated in the case that they don’t make it through on Monday.

The federal health insurance marketplace also saw record volume over the weekend, with nearly 2 million people visiting on Sunday.

The administration has touted the queuing system it has in place to get back to those experiencing long wait times online. But Monday’s early crash and current technical difficulties indicate the problems extend beyond just long wait times.

The HealthCare.gov website repeatedly crashed in the fall when it was first launched.

— Justin Sink contributed to this story.

— This story was updated at 1:46 p.m.