Health exchange websites in Ore., Wash. open with technical problems

PORTLAND, Ore. - The health exchanges in Oregon and Washington are up and running, but both websites opened with technical problems.

Cover Oregon, the state's insurance marketplace, went live on Tuesday, but the online system is not correctly determining eligibility for tax credits, the Oregon Health Plan and Healthy Kids. That means Oregonians will have to wait to enroll for health insurance through President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

"We're not going through with a full eligibility determination right now. Not everything is quite at the level that I want it to be in terms of assurance of accuracy," said Rocky King, Cover Oregon's executive director. "It's not about getting it out, it's about getting it right."

The problem is expected to be fixed later in October. King stressed that coverage doesn't begin until Jan. 1, and the problems should be fixed soon.

More than 75,000 people visited the Cover Oregon website Tuesday.

On the website, consumers can find certified insurance agents or community organizations to help them start the process, and they can browse through insurance options and price estimates. No one will be able to enroll in coverage until the problems are fixed.

"It's important because people will be able to get the financial help to purchase the coverage that they haven't been able to purchase for most of their lives," said King.

Individuals have until Dec. 15 to enroll for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Starting next year, most Americans who don't have health insurance will face fines.

"Today's really the start. It's not the end. It's really the time now that we can spend the next couple years making this work for Oregon," King said.

Governor John Kitzhaber released a statement from Salem, where he is working with lawmakers in a special legislative session.

"As Cover Oregon opens its doors today, we are well down the road to improving the health of Oregonians, improving the quality of care they receive, and reducing costs," said Kitzhaber. "This is a big day for our state and the nation, and a new era for delivering high-quality health care to Oregonians."

Washington website shut down

The website for Washington state's new health exchange got off to a rough start Tuesday. It was off line for nearly six hours after officials shut it down to assess why it was operating so slowly.

Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the new health insurance marketplace, said at midday Tuesday that the problem was not related to the volume of visitors or to the federal government shutdown.

The Washington Health Plan Finder website opened again for business just after 2 p.m.

Marchand compared the experience to any new software launch and said glitches come with the territory.

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said he wished the first day had gone smoother, but "realistically, it's a huge undertaking."

"Don't put too much on the first couple of days," he said. "The system is going to work."

Meanwhile, people continued to sign up for health insurance in Washington state by telephone or in person. Officials said it takes about an hour to go through the process for an individual or a little longer for a family.

The phone number for people to call, 855-923-4633, was not affected, and people were still able to go to designated sign-up locations around the state.

Washington residents have six months to buy health insurance through the new exchange during the first enrollment period, which ends in March.

The state estimates about 1 million Washington residents do not have health insurance, or about one in seven people.

The state hopes to enroll 130,000 people for health insurance in 2014 and another 280,000 in 2015.

Another 325,000 people will be eligible to sign up for free insurance through Medicaid.

Under the Affordable Care Act, people who don't have insurance in 2014 will pay a fine when they file their federal income taxes in early 2015. The fines for people who ignore the new law are scheduled to increase over time.

Associated Press reporters Steven DuBois, Donna Blankinship and Rachel La Corte contributed to this story.