WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama said there was “no excuse” for the issues on Healthcare.gov, which included website overload, bottlenecks due to the inability to browse plans without first creating an account, and long hotline wait times.
“The website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody,” Obama said on Monday. “Nobody is more frustrated than I am.”
He insisted the problems would be fixed and all Americans seeking insurance would be able to sign up. But it was not clear how quickly that would happen. The administration is beefing up call centers and encouraging more people to enroll over the phone while the website problems persist.
Obama announced it is now possible to browse for health plans without an account, and a downloadable, printable application form had been added to the site. Previously, it was necessary to call the hotline to request a mailed application.
Obama said his administration was doing “everything we can possibly do” to get the federally run websites up and running—including bringing in additional technology experts from inside and outside the government.
Janice Baker introduced the president before he spoke from the Rose Garden on Oct. 21. She said she was the first person in the state of Delaware to sign up for insurance through the new marketplace. She kept trying despite frustration.
Multiple insurance companies had turned her down because she had pre-existing conditions, she said. She had insurance through her small business, but it was costly and what she found through the exchange will save her $150 each month, she said.
About 48.6 million Americans had no health insurance in 2012, according to census statistics. The government has not yet released the numbers of how many people have enrolled. Open enrollment started Oct. 1 and ends March 31. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that about 7 million people would gain coverage through the exchanges during the first year.
The majority of uninsured people are frequent Internet users, according to Rachel Klein, director of the nonpartisan Families USA’s National Enrollment Assister Support Center. They want to sign up online, yet 75 percent of the uninsured also want face-to-face help before choosing an insurance plan.
How available face-to-face help is, and how rough or smooth online enrollment is, varies from state to state.
Mixed Success for States
Some states that developed their own exchanges and enrollment websites are having a more effective rollout. States that left everything to the federal government have had worse problems.
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Klein. “As far as I know, Kentucky has had a fantastic experience,” she added.
Kentucky is alone among southern states. It embraced “Obamacare,” operating its own exchange, and expanding Medicaid. Kentucky’s Kynect state insurance exchange is simple and allows users to browse plans and prescreen themselves for subsidy eligibility.
“This is 1.0,” said Jodi Ray, a trained health exchange navigator working in Florida. “We know with any technology there are going to be improvements and changes.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.