Delaware officials were hoping to enroll more than a third of the state's 90,000 uninsured residents in the new health insurance exchange as open enrollment began Tuesday.
But the launch began inauspiciously, as people using a portal on the state health care reform website that links to the federal computer system found delays as heavy traffic inundated the system.
"The website is actually a little bit down,'' said Sarah Heller, 49, of Wilmington, who has been without health insurance for four years and is planning to enroll in the state exchange.
Bettina Riveros, chairwoman of the Delaware Health Care Commission, which has overseen the health overhaul effort under the Affordable Care Act, said officials knew there would be technical glitches, and that people will need to be patient.
"Frankly, anything worth doing is hard ... but it is endlessly worth the effort,'' Riveros said during a press event at Christiana Hospital. "The online marketplace will be life-changing.''
Riveros said she experienced only a brief delay when she logged into the federal site Tuesday morning and created a username and password.
"It was only about a minute,'' she said.
An Associated Press reporter trying to access the federal site through choosehealthde.com experienced a delay of more than 10 minutes Tuesday afternoon before establishing a link.
"Due to heavy traffic in the first week of marketplace enrollment, you may experience delays,'' an advisory on the website stated. "Please be patient and remember that you have until December 15th to enroll for coverage that begins on January 1st.''
Officials noted that the open enrollment period lasts six months, through the end of March.
Meanwhile, teams of marketplace guides were gearing up to fan across the state to offer people information and help in enrolling.
"I'm not sure how many we're going to get today,'' said John Kearney Jr., one of nine marketplace guides for Christiana Care Health Services. "Even more important than enrolling people is educating them about it.''
Kearney noted that many people targeted for enrollment have never had health insurance or a primary care doctor.
Heller, who works as a snack bar attendant and bartender at a bowling alley, said she lost her Medicaid coverage when she got married four years ago, as the combined income for her and her husband put her above the income threshold. With several pre-existing conditions, including cervical disc disease, fibromyalgia, arthritis and sciatica, she is looking forward to coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
"I am willing to pay for it,'' she said.
Dr. Robert Laskowski, CEO of Christiana Care Health System, described the federal health care reform law as one of the biggest social transformations in years.
"This is truly transformative and truly a historic day,'' Laskowski said, adding that health care has little value if people don't have access to it.
Delaware's health insurance exchange offers 19 different plans, with varying levels of coverage, premiums and deductibles.
In addition to enrolling people in the exchange, Delaware officials say up to 30,000 more residents will be eligible for coverage under a Medicaid expansion approved by Democratic Gov. Jack Markell.
Delaware received $12.9 million in federal grants to implement its new health insurance marketplace.