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Got any tips for creating a HealthCare.gov account?

Got any tips for creating a HealthCare.gov account?

On Day 16 of the state Health Insurance Marketplaces, consumers are still getting stopped at the front door of Healthcare.gov. That is the one and only portal to marketplaces for the 36 states that opted to not create their own state market places but instead rely on the federal government. Many people trying to use the website found that they couldn’t create user names and passwords.

An analysis by Millward Brown Digital, an online marketing firm, concluded that of the 9.47 million “unique visitors” to Healthcare.gov in its first week, a mere 271,000 managed to create an account and use it to log in. (The Department of Health and Human Services has disputed this number but has offered no statistics of its own.) Many visitors to the Facebook page of our online tool, Health Law Helper, were among the frustrated multitudes. “I tried over 25 times without success,” said one commenter. “Says my username is already registered.”

Another early visitor was a Phoenix software tester named Ben Simo, who was shopping for a plan for a family member. But unlike most of us, Simo was able to use his professional know-how to look beneath the hood and come up with some suggestions for creating a Healthcare.gov user account that actually works.

Your first hurdle is to decipher the instructions for creating a login, as shown in the screen shot above. For the user name, best to put in everything mentioned in the garbled instructions: at least seven characters that include at least one upper-case letter, one lower-case letter, one number, and one of the permitted symbols. Also follow the password instructions to the letter. (Simo says the instructions are needlessly complicated and logins will end up being less secure because users will be putting the info on Post-Its stuck to their computers, as indeed I have done with my own.)

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper.

So here are Simo’s tips.

1. Move on immediately from failed logins.

If you’re having trouble creating a user name and password, “don’t believe all the status and error messages that you see on the screen,” Simo said. “They may not always match reality.” That’s what Simo saw when he looked at the underlying Javascript on one of his failed attempts. If anything at all doesn’t go right, immediately try a different name, password, and/or security questions.

2. Check your inbox frequently.

If you are truly successful, you should receive an “account activation” e-mail within a few hours to verify that the email address you gave was legit. Answer it promptly, because if you don’t, Healthcare.gov will time you out. If the e-mail never comes, you’ll have to go back to square one.

3. Clear your cookies.

Your next hurdle after creating a functioning user name and password is to reach the identity verification section. If you log in to Healthcare.gov and get nothing but a blank page, what’s likely happening, Simo says, is that in your previous visits to Healthcare.gov, your browser got loaded up with lots of cookies, bits of data and code that are implanted for later retrieval and use by Healthcare.gov. The problem is that the cookie files are bigger than what the website can accept back (yes, a design error). Result: a blank page. Solution: either delete the Healthcare.gov cookies from your browser (typically found in the “privacy” settings in Preferences), or log back in from a browser you’ve never previously used to access Healthcare.gov. That advice rang especially true to me because that’s how I finally got an identity verification screen: by switching from my usual Safari browser to another that I rarely use.

If all this is too much for you to absorb, follow our previous advice: Stay away from Healthcare.gov for at least another month if you can. Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made. The coverage available through the marketplaces won’t begin until Jan. 1, 2014, at the earliest, and you have until Dec. 15 to enroll if you need insurance that starts promptly.

By the way, Simo has plenty more to say about Healthcare.gov on his blog.  

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here. It helps if you include the state you live in.

— Nancy Metcalf

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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