By Pat Loeb

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) — The long-awaited federal health care exchange launched on October 1st of this year, and immediately crashed.

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It didn’t matter whether you called (“All of our representatives are currently assisting other customers…”) or went online to healthcare.gov, there was no way to get through to the government agency that was the only place to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“I haven’t been able to actually get through and see what the premiums would be,” lamented one man we spoke with.

Some felt the government web site was a victim of the law’s popularity.

“I think it’s slow today because of the enthusiasm,” one woman told us.

Affordable Care Act advocates  tried to put the best face on things.

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“I think that just means there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for what the marketplace has to offer,” said like Laura Line of Resources for Human Development.  “People want options. I think it is going to be jammed.   Call on off-peak hours, perhaps earlier in the morning, when the west coast isn’t on,” she advised.  “But it is a process.”

But as days, then weeks, went by with little improvement, it became clear that the problems were deep and systemic.

An overhaul was undertaken, deadlines were extended.   The site improved, but glitches remained.

The number of people signing up has never matched early estimates — delighting Obamacare opponents — but supporters, such as Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, predict that participation will grown in 2014.

“Despite what some would characterize as a rocky start, the Affordable Care Act is doing something incredible,” the mayor said.  “Right here in Philadelphia, that means more than 210,000 uninsured people will be able to purchase affordable health care.”

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