WH docs: Paper applications for Obamacare were problematic, too

Many applicants are still having problems when they try to log on to the website healthcare.gov.
CBS News

While the Obama administration last month worked on resolving issues with HealthCare.gov, it had concerns that it was misleading consumers by suggesting they'd make more progress signing up for an Obamacare insurance plan with a paper application, documents recently turned over to Congress show.

"The paper applications allow people to feel like they are moving forward in the process and provides another option; at the end of the day, we are all stuck in the same queue," the notes from an Obama administration meeting on Oct. 11 say. The notes were turned over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, one of the multiple congressional committees investigating the botched HealthCare.gov rollout and the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Notes from an Oct. 21 meeting show that navigators -- community leaders designated to help people sign up for private insurance on the new Obamacare marketplace -- were once again advised to help people complete paper applications.

However, for the first three weeks the marketplace was open, the instructions were less clear.

The Oct. 11 notes said, "The call center has daily requests for paper applications upwards of 30,000. 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."

Notes from an Oct. 15 meeting say, "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."

On Oct. 21, the day the administration was ready to tell navigators to once again use paper applications, President Obama addressed the HealthCare.gov problems from the White House Rose Garden. The website, he said, "is not working the way it should for everybody -- there's no sugar-coating it." The president promised that as the website was being repaired, the administration would also redouble its efforts to help people buy insurance offline.

Mr. Obama will continue to defend his health care law this week, when he travels to Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday to meet with local volunteers serving as navigators. He will visit Temple Emanu-El to meet navigators working with Dallas Area Interfaith.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Congress will conduct the next hearing to investigate the law's implementation. Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), will appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Tavenner appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee last week, where she offered up the administration's first formal apology for the botched website.

While the website's problems have significantly slowed down enrollment, uninsured Americans have until March 31 to sign up for insurance before being hit with next year's individual mandate fine. Open enrollment on HealthCare.gov similarly lasts through March 31.

A new survey from the Commonwealth Fund found that after the first month of open enrollment, 60 percent of adults potentially eligible for insurance on the new marketplace were aware of its existing. Seventeen percent of potentially eligible adults actually visited the online marketplaces, and one out of five of those visitors enrolled in a plan. Among those who didn't enroll, 37 percent cited technical issues as a reason.