Problems with ObamaCare phone enrollment

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released documents on Monday that show ObamaCare applications submitted over the phone are having the same problems as those submitted through the HealthCare.gov website.

According to the minutes of “War Room” meetings between Obama administration officials, ObamaCare contractors and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), applications submitted over the phone for the health insurance exchanges use the same computer system as the ObamaCare website. The same portal is used to determine eligibility no matter how the application is submitted.

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The Issa documents show administration officials scrambling to find an alternative, and deciding that telling consumers to mail in paper applications was the best end-around.

“The paper application allows people to feel like they are moving forward,” the notes from the meeting say. “At the end of the day, we are all stuck in the same queue.”

The “War Room” documents show frustration at all levels, including among the navigators, whose job it is to walk people through enrollment.

“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 notes say.

A Democratic staffer on the House Oversight Committee said the Issa release was nothing new, and blasted committee Republicans for leaking “cherry-picked information.”

“Witnesses already testified last week that paper applications go through the same system, so it is unclear what is new about this,” the staffer said. “Instead, it appears that the Republican approach to ‘oversight’ is to continue the drip-drip-drip of leaking cherry-picked information as part of their ongoing campaign to impede implementation of the Affordable Care Act.”

HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters also pushed back on the release as “not official meeting minutes” and “several weeks old.”

“We’ve made significant progress since then as we have undergone a tech surge and worked to identify, diagnose and fix issues,” she told The Hill in a statement.

“We have been clear for weeks now that processing paper applications uses HealthCare.gov — but bypasses the front-end portal involving creating an account. In addition, we are checking items off our punch list every day and believe that by the end of November the system will work smoothly for the vast majority of users. We are processing paper applications every day, and consumers are receiving eligibility determinations from these applications.”

The HealthCare.gov website has been plagued by technical difficulties since its Oct. 1 launch. Administration officials have touted alternatives to the website, including mail, phone, and in-person applications.

At some recent events, President Obama has reassured people that they can bypass the website’s technical issues by sending applications in by snail mail or by calling a hotline.

“In the meantime, you can still apply for coverage over the phone, or by mail or in person,” he told a crowd at a healthcare event in Boston last week.

“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,” he said at another point.

Representatives for HHS and the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee did not return requests for comment.

The Department of Health and Human Services are working with QSSI, the principle HealthCare.gov contractor, to repair the troubled website.

— This story wasd updated at 12:30 p.m.

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