(CNSNews.com) – White House press secretary Jay Carney admitted Monday that people who sign up for Obamacare over the phone and in person with paper applications will still have to have their information entered onto healthcare.gov, the website that has been plagued with technical problems since its rollout on Oct. 1.
“The whole point is that CMS is processing paper applications through healthcare.gov, but it bypasses the need to create an account, and creating an account is what led to the bulk of issues for users in the initial days,” Carney said in response to questioning from ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who asked about a series of internal Obama administration memos which showed that enrollment by phone and paper were “stuck in the same queue.”
“The same portal is used to determine eligibility no matter how the application is submitted (paper, online),” ABC News quotes a Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight memo from Oct. 11 as saying.
“The paper applications allow people to feel like they are moving forward in the process and provides another option,” it says. “At the end of the day, we are all stuck in the same queue.”
“Jay, as I’m sure you remember, the president went in the Rose Garden on Oct. 21st and talked about troubles with the website and said you can bypass the website and apply by phone or in person, and even said that once you get somebody on the phone, you can, it usually takes about 25 minutes for an individual to apply – 45 minutes for a family,” Karl said.
“New memos released by the Government Reform committee show that the CMS was talking about how the very same issues were affecting written applications, phone applications. In fact, one of the memos says: ‘At the end of the day, we are all stuck in the same queue, because all those applications have to go through the website,’ have to go through the same computer system,” Karl said.
“Did the president know that the very same problems would be facing consumers when they called on the phone when he said they could apply in 25 minutes?” he asked Carney.
“Well, John as you know, the answer is yes, as was reported widely at the time,” Carney replied.
Carney said the administration “bulked up” staffing at call centers so that individuals could enroll and bypass the creation of an account.
“These applications are then processed through healthcare.gov, and we’re working to fix healthcare.gov,” Carney said, “but in terms of the user experience, the whole point was to alleviate the frustration that so many Americans were having online and to take that frustration away from them and allow a live person at a call-in center to handle their questions and their sign-ups and their enrollment for them.”
“So I know it’s spoken in tones of dramatic revelation, but it was a known fact at the time. We never pretended otherwise, so I think as you know – cause I know you’ve talked to people about this – that this is, the whole point was to beef up the call-in centers to give the American people who are looking for information, a way to avoid some of the frustrations they were having online,” Carney added.
Karl: But Jay, I want to go back to exactly what the president said. He said you can bypass the website and apply by phone or in-person and that it can be done in 25 minutes, but these memos say that at the end of the day, we are all stuck in the same queue, cause they all have to go through the same portal.
Carney: Jon, I get it, but the person who calls isn’t the one who continues to wait after the paper application is filled, right?
Karl: I think that your mocking is entertaining, but the president said that you could apply within 25 minutes. That was not true.
Carney: I think everybody else is looking quizzically, because there’s a reason to be quizzical here. You call up. You give your information. You get the questions answered that you need answered, and then it’s they take over from there, and then you find out what you’re eligible for, and the process goes forward.
Karl: When? 25 minutes?
Carney: No, once your application is processed. The point was to relieve some of the frustration that Americans were understandably experiencing, and…
Another reporter: What’s the part that takes 25 minutes? Maybe you could explain.
Carney: If it’s an individual – roughly this is on average, the interaction you have when you give the information and you bypass the creation of an account, and you sign up, so that you didn’t have to do that online. And then to enroll, obviously, you would give in the information you need. That would be processed. You would find out how much you qualified for, and you could be enrolled that way. But obviously, but Jon, we have never said that the end point of the process wouldn’t still have to go through healthcare.gov, so this is not—
Karl: Actually, that’s not true, Jay. Look at your own words on October 21st, the same day. You said, ‘You can enroll over the phone. You can enroll in person.’ On October 23rd, you said there are four ways to enroll through the exchanges. You didn’t say they all had to go through healthcare.gov. You said there are there are four ways to enroll in the exchanges – by phone, in person, at local health centers, or by mail or the website. You said there were four different ways. There’s only one way – it all has to go through, as you just said, healthcare.gov.
Carney: I’m saying, what I said and everybody said and again you can have this soliloquy by yourself, but the—
Karl: No, I’m trying to understand why the president gave the American public the impression that they can apply – not impression – told people they can apply in 25 minutes.
Carney: They can get on the phone and call, and the paperwork is filled out for them, and the process is taken over from there.
Karl: And when do they enroll?
Carney: When their paperwork is processed through healthcare.gov, but they don’t have to go online to do it is the point, Jon. That was the whole purpose of while we are fixing the website, making it meet the standards that we set, that Americans had this alternative way with beefed up staffing and new rules allowing the call-in centers to do this, the individuals on the call-in centers to do this, to provide that relief to Americans who are frustrated by the experience. I’m not sure what you think you’ve discovered here Jon, but if you’re asking me—
Karl: …you just said it all has to go through the website.
Carney: Jon, I think we’ve been through this. You call, you have an experience with. You have a conversation with someone in the call-in center. You give them your information. They process it for you. They bypass the creation of an account, which is where most of the bottlenecks were happening for users on the website. Eventually, that still has to go through healthcare.gov, but you’ve don the work with—
Karl: You didn’t do the eventually part.
Carney: Jon, I give up.
Karl: One more thing from Kathleen Sebelius. Tell me if this was accurate. This was October 24th. She said at the Phoenix call center, a person on the end of the phone can get questions answered in up to 150 languages as well as walk somebody all the way through the process and enroll at the end of the day.
Carney: Right, at the end of the day. You give somebody your information. When you call up and sign up for something right now, Jon, and somebody takes your information, and they process whatever it is you’re signing up for and enrolling in, they can do that once you’re off the phone. You don’t have to stay on the phone. That’s the point, is to relieve Americans who are frustrated by their own—
On Oct. 21, in a Rose Garden press conference President Obama acknowledged that “the website has been too slow,” and “people have been getting stuck during the application process.” So, he said Americans can buy health insurance “the old-fashioned way – offline, either over the phone or in person.”
“While the website will ultimately be the easiest way to buy insurance through the marketplace, it isn’t the only way. And I want to emphasize this. Even as we redouble our efforts to get the site working as well as it’s supposed to, we’re also redoubling our efforts to make sure you can still buy the same quality, affordable insurance plans available on the marketplace the old-fashioned way -- offline, either over the phone or in person,” the president said.
“Once you get on the phone with a trained representative, it usually takes about 25 minutes for an individual to apply for coverage, about 45 minutes for a family. Once you apply for coverage, you will be contacted by email or postal mail about your coverage status,” Obama said.