If only this was just a Halloween trick.
Visitors trying to log on to the Obamacare website early Thursday morning saw the same stubborn phrase that has roiled users for weeks: "The system is down at the moment."
It's been almost a full month since the HealthCare.gov website launched, riddled with technical problems despite a series of advance warning signs. And despite a chorus of apologies out of Washington, it may be another month before everything's running smoothly.
Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking administration official to apologize Wednesday for the botched rollout.
"We assumed that it was up and ready to run," he told CNN's sister network HLN. "But the good news is although it's not -- and we apologize for that -- we are confident by the end of November it'll be, and there'll still be plenty of time for people to register and get online."
That came after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for the "miserably frustrating" problems with the website during a 3 1/2-hour congressional grilling.
The former Kansas governor promised a "vast majority" of consumers will be able to shop online for health insurance under Obamacare with greater ease by the end of November.
"In these early weeks, access to HealthCare.gov has been a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans, including many who have waited years, in some cases their entire lives, for the security of health insurance," Sebelius said.
To the frustrated users who have had problems, she said: "You deserve better. I apologize. I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems."
She said she made a mistake when she told President Barack Obama that HealthCare.gov was "ready to go" for its October 1 launch.
"Clearly, I was wrong. We were wrong," she said. "We knew that in any big, new, complicated system there would be problems. No one ever imagined the volume of issues and problems that we have had and we must fix it."
Obama couldn't log on
Biden said he didn't even bother logging on to the Obamacare site.
"Actually, the President tried to get online, and my daughter tried to get online," he said. "I did not, because it was clear that I was not getting online."
Obama himself acknowledged that too many people "have gotten stuck, and I am not happy about it."
"There's no excuse for it," the President said. "And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP."
Glass half full?
Sebelius said the sweeping health care program has delivered on its central promise to provide affordable health care coverage. Thousands have been able to access the website to look at new health coverage options that will give them security of knowing they won't go bankrupt if they get sick, she said.
She echoed the overall administration stance -- that a team of experts is scrambling to fix the website's errors.
Republicans have called for Sebelius to be fired for the Obamacare problems, but a White House spokesman said Wednesday that Obama has "complete confidence" in her.
"She took responsibility for many of the problems that are evident with the (Obamacare) website, but she also deserves credit for the other aspects of the Affordable Care Act implementation that have gone well," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
In fact, Obama tried to turn the tables on Republican opponents of his signature health care reforms, challenging them to come up with helpful ideas instead of undermining the federal law.
"Anyone defending the remnants of the old, broken system -- as if it was working for people -- anybody who thinks we shouldn't finish the job of making the health care system work for everybody ... those folks should have to explain themselves," he said.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation website, 15.4 million people had individual health care coverage in 2011, representing about 5% of the population. The vast majority of Americans have coverage through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid or other public providers and will not be affected by changes involving individual coverage.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that "a significant portion" of the 5% of people with individual coverage will end up paying less for better policies when they shop around in the new exchanges.