On Thursday, with about five days left until the end of open enrollment, House staffers trickled out of the health benefits fair with packets of new insurance information and knowledge of a new roadblock.
“Apparently the site is down, so I can’t register,” said a man who identified himself as a Republican staffer as he waited to catch the elevator on the third floor of the Cannon House Office Building, clutching a packet from Kaiser.
DC Health Link experienced “technical difficulties with their website,” according to a mass email sent to all Senate staff at 11:32 a.m. The glitch meant employees could learn more about the plans being offered by insurance carriers on the site but not enroll.
Inside the fair, a team of representatives from the District’s insurance exchange market sat behind a folding table with three laptops. One of the computers on the table was open for staffers to use, with at least three DC Health Link employees present to offer direct guidance for confronting error messages and glitches.
Around 1:30 p.m., there were about 15 people in line for the single computer. The queue snaked around the center of the room.
One woman who identified herself as a House Republican staffer said she had been instructed to go back to her office rather than stand in the line and wait for a phone call from DC Health Link to tell her when the glitches were clear.
She told CQ Roll Call that she had tried for two consecutive nights to register but couldn’t figure out if her enrollment “actually went through.”
“They weren’t able to confirm,” she said, but she believed she would hear back “supposedly today.”
Not even Rep. Harold Rogers, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had been able to sign up as of early Thursday afternoon.
“I’m trying to get onto the exchange. I’m unable to, and we’ve stood in line down there. We’ve been on the telephone,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We’ve got all the lines on hold waiting for them to answer. It’s incredible.”
One man walked out of the fair in a huff around 3:45 p.m., muttering, “They’re never going to fix this.”
The man, who said he worked for a GOP member, had been trying to buy insurance for his family since Wednesday but kept getting error messages.
“According to our IT guy, it’s asking me to download the software they used to build the site,” he said, gesturing to a black-and-white screenshot he’d printed out to bring to the fair.
By 4 p.m., when the health benefits fair was set to close, people were still waiting in line for the DC Health Link booth.
While representatives from Aetna, Kaiser, CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare packed up their folders and freebies — including pens and sticky notes — the team from DC Health Link stayed at its table.
As of 5 p.m., an hour after closing time, DC Health Link remained on site.
Asked if the site was working, a woman leaving the fair shrugged and said, “sometimes ... it’s a cluster.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.