WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration's health care website stumbled early Monday , falling out of service for nearly four hours on deadline day for sign-ups. After it was fixed, officials plowed ahead with a nationwide promotional drive, almost like getting out the vote on Election Day.
Early visitors to HealthCare.gov on Monday morning saw messages that the site was down for maintenance. At times the visitors were also directed to a virtual waiting room - a feature designed to ease the strain on the site during periods of heavy use.
Administration spokesman Aaron Albright said the website was brought back up shortly before 9 a.m., Eastern time. But people who missed their window sign up may still be able to take advantage of a grace period and other special extensions announced last week.
Albright said the site undergoes "regular nightly maintenance" during off-peak hours and that period was extended because of a "technical problem." He did not say what the problem was, but a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services called it "a software bug" unrelated to application volume.
Albright said consumers who left an email address would be "invited back" when the system got up and running again.
Officials said the website wasn't hacked. The site, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, received about 1.7 million on Sunday. The federal site serves 36 states. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are running their own sites, some of which have been crippled by technical problems.
Nonetheless, the administration and the states appear to be on track to sign-up about 6.5 million people for subsidized private health insurance through the new online markets. That's half way between a revised goal of 6 million and the original target of 7 million. The earlier goal was scaled back after the website's disastrous launch last fall, which kept it off-line during most of October.