WH docs: Paper applications for Obamacare were problematic, too

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by STEPHANIE CONDON

CBS News

Posted on November 4, 2013 at 3:35 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 4 at 7:15 PM

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.

The poll, conducted Oct. 9-27, surveyed 682 adults ages 19 to 64 (making them potentially eligible for insurance on the new marketplace). The survey had a 4.3 percent margin of error.

Given the website's persistent problems, some Democrats have proposed dramatic action. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on "Face the Nation" Sunday, "I said this direct to the president's chief of staff, that they ought to take down the website until it was right."

The Republican party, meanwhile, is attacking Democrats over another Obamacare controversy -- the fact that millions of Americans on the individual market are being dropped by their insurers because their plans no longer meet the minimum standards set by Obamacare.

The Republican National Committee on Monday launched robocalls and targeted Facebook posts against 11 Senate Democrats, referencing the fact that Senate Democrats supported the rule grandfathering in pre-Obamacare plans -- even though estimates showed that a large portion of plans would have to eventually be dropped.

"In 2010 President Obama and the Democrats were warned about this very issue and deliberately chose to make it more difficult for Americans to keep their insurance," RNC chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

A memo obtained by CBS News shows that back in 2010, a trusted Obama health care adviser warned the White House it was losing control of Obamacare. David Cutler, who worked on the Obama 2008 campaign and was a valued outside health care consultant wrote this blunt memo, "I do not believe the relevant members of the administration understand the president's vision or have the capability to carry it out."

Cutler wrote no one was in charge who had any experience in complex business start-ups. He also worried basic regulations, technology and policy coordination would fail.

Cutler told CBS, "You need to have people who have understanding of the political process, people who understand how to work within an administration and people who understand how to start and build a business, and unfortunately, they just didn't get all of those people together," Cutler said.

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