The systemwide defects in Obamacare mounted Monday, from compounding enrollment problems to soaring insurance cancellations to breaches of privacy, as the Obama administration struggled to contain the political damage and repair its laughingstock health care website.
The number of people receiving cancellation notices from their insurers rose to more than 3.5 million, in spite of President Obama’s debunked pledge that Americans could keep their plans if they liked them.
Mr. Obama’s subsequent reassurances that people who lose coverage can “just shop around” is increasingly a dead end for consumers who can’t access the government’s malfunctioning website or can’t get their applications processed via non-electronic options recommended by the president.
A newly released government memo shows administration officials knew as early as Oct. 11 that it was misleading for Mr. Obama and his aides to urge consumers to apply on paper for insurance because the paper applications were “all stuck in the same queue” because of website crashes. But 10 days later, Mr. Obama held an event in the White House Rose Garden touting the advantages of applying on paper to circumvent the website glitches.
The White House offered the defense Monday that consumers who fill out paper forms aren’t kept waiting for the website to work, even if they are unaware that their applications can’t be processed right away.
As the health care program’s problems deepened, Mr. Obama scheduled a trip to Dallas for Wednesday to praise volunteers at an Obamacare call center who are “helping consumers learn about and enroll in quality, affordable health insurance plans,” the White House said. The president is expected again to defend a law that is getting harder to defend by the day.
The HealthCare.gov website, which enrolled only 248 people in its first three days of operation, now is being taken down four hours per day so high-tech troubleshooters can work on fixing it. The site won’t be available from 1-5 a.m. EST each day until the problems are corrected, the Department of Health and Human Services said.
“Additional down times may be possible as we work to make things better,” the agency said.
Users who attempted to start the registration process Monday afternoon were greeted by the now-familiar message: “The system is down at the moment.”
Contractors and officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the site experienced a 90-minute outage that started at 12:40 p.m. and that additional outages are likely as they try to make the online portal accessible for the “vast majority of users” by the end of the month.
“This is a natural part of the process,” said Andy Slavitt, executive vice president of a company that owns Quality Software Services Inc., which has been chosen to oversee repairs.
CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said the website is “fixable” and some consumers are able to enroll, so there is no need to take down the site completely as some lawmakers have suggested.
She said paper applications are being processed “as quickly as possible” and offer a benefit to users, despite revelations about their hurdles in the queue, because they bypass the front-end registration process that jammed up the website.
The administration has promised to fix the site by the end of this month. The government wants about 7 million people enrolled for insurance by the end of March, the deadline to buy coverage or face a fine.