SANTA FE — Obamacare began Tuesday with a crush of business and plenty of glitches.
Twenty-nine small businesses signed up for health plans during the first 45 minutes of the Affordable Care Act, said Mike Nunez, CEO of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange. By noon, about 100 businesses had enrolled, he said.
All the companies have a maximum of 50 employees. They could obtain a tax credit by offering an insurance plan for their workers.
Another motivation for small businesses may be the opportunity for more choices in health coverage under the new federal law popularly known as Obamacare, Nunez said in a phone interview.
Businesses offering affordable health insurance may also gain an advantage by strengthening their ability to attract and keep good employees, according to the New Mexico exchange.
Plans for small businesses go into effect in 2014. The earliest that employees will be able to enroll in the company health plans is Nov. 1.
New Mexico's Health Insurance Exchange does not yet allow individuals or families to sign up for coverage. Nunez said the state planned to expand to that level of service next year.
This meant a slow and chaotic day for New Mexico residents who went on computers to try to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
They started at a website for the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, but it routed them to the federal government's healthcare.gov site, which was down during at least one stretch of the exhcnage's first day. It bogged down at other times.
Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act made a point of mentioning the bumpy beginning, but the president was undeterred by critics.
Obama said the disruption occurred because volume was so great.
"... More than one million people visited healthcare.gov before 7 in the morning," Obama said. "To put that in context, there were five times more users in the marketplace this morning than have ever been on medicare.gov at one time."
Obama promised that the enrollment system would get smoother and quicker.
"Like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the sign-up process along the way that we will fix," he said.
The online system asks that people seeking health insurance sign in with an email account. But getting through the process proved impossible during parts of the day.
The website froze, and applicants could not complete the signup process.
"We're working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later," the website advised those trying to sign up for insurance on the federal exchange.
Nunez also said heavy volume was the explanation for delays. But, he said, other glitches also may have occurred.
New Mexico now has a "hybrid system" for Obamacare coverage, meaning it can sign up small businesses but has to refer individuals and families to the federal exchange.
Still, Nunez said, the state had "boots on the ground" to try to help people sign up.
The New Mexico exchange has about 200 centers across the state to assist those trying to get health insurance, though it recommends that they make appointments for help, Nunez said.
People who sign up for a health insurance plan by Dec. 1 will have coverage by Jan. 1, according to the New Mexico exchange.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.