is slightly less terrible today

Adds plan preview feature that occasionally works

Published: October 10, 2013 05:00 PM

There were small and halting signs of improvement today on the beleaguered and dysfunctional site, which is the one and only portal to the Health Insurance Marketplace for the inhabitants of 36 states.

The bad news is that it’s still next to impossible to create a user name and password that you can actually use to sign in. I myself have tried five times without success. Our readers report similar frustrations:

“Have been trying for a week, at least 10 times a day.  Have yet to get through the process,” wrote one.

“Created account on 10/6 but unable to access it since then—get an error message saying that my ‘account is not valid.' What a waste of my time,” reported another.

“I have not been able to log in and I have tried 47 times,” said a visitor to the new Facebook page of our online interactive tool, But amazingly, another visitor to the page said he’d created a functioning account in 10 minutes. (Add your experiences with here.)

On the plus side, consumers coming to are no longer stopped cold by an error message or a screen saying they’ve been put in a waiting line.

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.

Even more encouragingly, today the site added a plan preview section (pictured above) where visitors can see plans available in their states without having to register (which, of course, hardly anyone has been able to do). Some of the state-run marketplaces have had this service from Day One, but not

This new feature is fairly rudimentary: The premiums listed are the averages for two broad age groups, under 50 and 50 and over, and don’t reflect any subsidies for which you might be eligible. And you can’t click through to see any plan details beyond the name of the insurance company, the “metal” level of the plan, and the average premium for your age category. But at least you can browse a bit while waiting for the site’s administrators to fix the broken account-creation function.

Finding the preview site from’s home page involves a bit of detective work, so to spare you the trouble, here’s a direct link.

In keeping with the site’s overall unsteadiness, at times the preview function returns a complete list of plans, and at times it returns nothing except an apology that it doesn’t always work.

If you have no choice but to shop for insurance through, our advice remains the same: Don’t bother even trying for another couple of weeks, by which time, knock wood, things will have been put in some semblance of working order. As long as you sign up for a plan by Dec. 15, your coverage will start on Jan. 1.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here. It helps if you give the name of the state where you live.

— Nancy Metcalf

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