Toll-free number won’t save consumers from ObamaCare website

Applications for ObamaCare insurance must be made through its troubled website, even if consumers use a toll-free number touted by President Obama.

Obama and other officials have urged people struggling to sign up to try calling or mailing their information to the government.

But officials told The Hill that all applications must eventually be processed through the government website, which has been plagued by glitches and errors.

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People can give their information to government representatives over the phone or through the mail, but those representatives have to enter that information into HealthCare.gov.

The fact that all applications must be processed through the troubled website appears to undermine the president's claim that there are effective alternatives for enrolling in the programs.

“But even as we improve the website, remember that the website isn’t the only way to apply for coverage under these new plans,” Obama said in his weekly address Saturday.

“We’ve updated HealthCare.gov to offer more information about enrolling over the phone, by mail, or in person with a specially-trained navigator who can help answer your questions. Just call 1-800-318-2596 or visit LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov.”

Two officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services acknowledged that the website glitches sometimes prevent the government representatives from entering the information into the online system. When the agents are unable to enter a customer's information online, they store the data and try again later, according to the officials.

The government uses the online system to verify applicants' eligibility for the insurance exchanges.

The technical problems have prevented many people from signing up for insurance through the exchanges, threatening to derail President Obama's signature policy achievement.

The White House said last week that it expects to have the technical problems ironed out by the end of November.

President Obama promised a “tech surge” of additional experts who will work to fix the site, and appointed former Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients to lead the effort.