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Will the young and healthy use healthcare.gov?

By Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent
updated 11:27 AM EDT, Tue October 29, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Susan Lane made it her mission to sign up on healthcare.gov
  • Lane and her family badly needed insurance
  • But will young, healthy people go to such trouble?

(CNN) -- Signing up for Obamacare has become a part-time job for Susan Lane.

Starting the minute healthcare.gov went live October 1, Lane spent five to six hours a day trying to make the site work before she finally managed to enroll two weeks later.

She faced error messages and blank screens. The green twirly "please wait" circle literally haunted her dreams.

"There were days that I would just completely lose my temper with it," she remembers. "I'd want to just slam my laptop down."

But Lane kept with it because she needs insurance -- badly. She suffers from depression, sleep apnea and thyroid problems, and her daughter has Asperger's syndrome.

She was "immediately relieved" when she signed up on healthcare.gov because before Obamacare, no insurance companies would take them with their pre-existing conditions. Their medical bills totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars and ate up the family's life savings, and the Lanes declared bankruptcy earlier this year.

Healthcare.gov homepage gets makeover

"I wanted the coverage, and I was bound and determined to get it," Lane said from her Florida home.

But will everyone else -- especially healthy people -- be determined enough to stick with healthcare.gov? Will they spend five hours a day trying to make a website work when they aren't motivated by mounting medical bills?

Obama administration officials have said they need about 2.7 million young, healthy people to sign up -- and that they fully expect them to join at the very last minute.

Without those healthy people, Obamacare could be in trouble, since an insurance pool only works well when healthy people, who pay premiums but use few services, are in it to help offset the costs of people like Lane and her daughter.

"It's incredibly important to have young people in the (insurance) exchanges in the long term," said Caroline Pearson, a vice president at Avalere Health, a healthcare strategy group. "And the glitches on the website don't help the situation at all."

Eventually -- hopefully -- healthcare.gov will become a workable site. But some worry that even then, the website will have been branded as problematic and time-consuming, and some healthy people will prefer to pay the fine for being uninsured, which in many cases is significantly lower than the cost of buying insurance.

Official: Obamacare website 'fixable' by end of November

"Is that perception of this flawed website going to stick with the public, or is it something that can be gotten over?" asked Michael Perry, a partner at PerryUndem, which does surveying and marketing to young people about health care. "If it sticks, that's going to be a problem."

CNN's John Bonifield and Adam Aigner-Treworgy contributed to this report.

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