President Barack Obama and supporters of Obamacare have encouraged Americans frustrated by the glitchy HealthCare.gov website to apply for coverage over the phone. But according to meeting notes released Monday by Republican investigators on Capitol Hill, it turns out the phone operators rely on the website to push through transactions.
Meanwhile, performance has improved, but problems with the website continue as open enrollment for Obamacare enters the second of a planned six months. A notice at the top of HealthCare.gov explains the website will be out of order between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., ET, every night as contractors work to improve its performance.
Back in October, officials quietly encouraged the use of paper applications instead of the website in part to make people obtaining insurance "feel like they were moving forward," according to the documents, which the House Committee on Government Reform obtained as part of an ongoing investigation into the botched rollout of healthcare.gov.
"The same portal is used to determine eligibility no matter how the application is submitted (paper, online), so improving that experience for everyone matters and there is coordination to improve that experience," according to the documents dated Oct. 11.
The notes, dated from four different meetings throughout October, appear to be notes from meetings conducted by the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), the Heath and Human Services Department charged with coordinating rollout of the state and federal healthcare marketplaces that are a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. It is not clear who is the author.
They list issues reported by various computer contractors, by officials dealing with phone operators and by people apparently in contact with the health reform "navigators," specially trained individuals hired by the government to help uninsured Americans obtain coverage through the marketplace exchanges.
But these navigators apparently expressed grave concern about the broken website.
"Navigators are seeing people very frustrated and walking away so they are turning to paper applications to protect their reputations as people in the communities who can help, even though paper applications will not have a quicker result necessarily."
The government has still not released official data on how many Americans have been able to purchase insurance over the exchanges. But there are clues in the CIIO notes released Monday.
The Oct. 11 document describes issues with the website's data hub that "about 1000 of the transactions did not make it; that's about 15 percent of the transactions early on."
It's not clear exactly what the timeframe for those 1,000 transactions was, although it was certainly less than 11 days from the Oct. 1 launch, or if they referred to transactions other than people actually trying to purchase insurance.
The Oct. 11 set of notes also suggests that at that time, phone operators were receiving approximately 30,000 requests for paper applications each day.
Several days later, one contractor, Serco, reported, "at about 1,000 paper applications; volume up at the end of last week."
Serco is a contractor charged with helping process paper applications.
There are also clues about other unexpected problems. Data, presumably from the Veterans Affairs administration, appeared to be flawed.
"The Veterans Affairs data issue (75 percent of their pings coming back as deceased) is still being investigated," according to the notes.