New 'Obamacare' Snafus Strike White House

Consumers that tried to enroll by mail, phone faced similar problems that plagued web users.
3:00 | 11/04/13

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Transcript for New 'Obamacare' Snafus Strike White House
This is a special group. Over and I'm Devin Dwyer in new York and this is an ABC news digital special report new revelations today about the obamacare enrollment process. Internal memos showing the backlog of applicants is actually deeper than anyone outside the administration had known. But all the latest from Washington here's ABC's Karen Travers take care. -- afternoon DeVon -- hits just keep on coming so for the last couple of week the Obama administration has been urging people who been having problems on the web site. That there are other places that they can -- -- role they can do it by phone -- they can do it in person and and it turns out there are problems there as well. Your technical problems -- health care dot gov have dog the Obama administration for more than a month. The web site hasn't worked when we wanted to work. To get around those issues President Obama has told frustrated Americans. You can still apply for coverage over the phone or by mail or in person. Unlike the web site the president said there are no long delays on the phone. Once you get on the phone where they train -- -- it usually takes about 25 minutes for an individual to apply for coverage. About 45 minutes for -- family. Sound too good to be true. It -- -- Internal Obama administration memos obtained exclusively by ABC news from congressional Republican investigators. -- -- applications by phone have had seen problems as the ones in the web site. That's because those trained represented as the president spoke are using the same computer system and the average American logging on at home. This -- portal is used to determine eligibility no matter how the application is submitted paper online. Reads one memo written by the team in charge of fixing the web site. The memo says the non web applications are essentially a way to buy time. Applications allow people to feel like they're moving forward it reads at the end of the day were all stuffed in the same Q and Republicans continue to hammer the White House. The failure of obamacare launch is just the tip of the iceberg. In unless we act Americans will be stuck on board this -- can't. -- and the president will put on his campaign -- once again tonight here in Washington at a health care summit. You'll urged his supporters to get out and get people signed up for health care -- That's right and try to change the topical little bit too I think to some other things -- immigration ABC's Karen Travers in Washington thanks so much Karen. We're joined now by ABC news radio's correspondent Stephen -- -- who's been following this. Our process along very closely Steve so let's just get this straight let's be clear people taking calls are receiving the applications by mail. Are actually taking that information going to the same website the Obama team is working to fix. That's the -- it seems to heaven according to these documents that we obtained exclusively from house oversight committee investigators they're feeding us this information to kind of gives a picture of what the last six weeks of open enrollment. Have been like the administration has said that they would not release any enrollment figures until mid November but what's clear now from these documents is the trouble with health -- dot gov. Is really all across the system. Of -- folks into the exchanges and not just. On determining -- -- eligibility or actually enrolling them in plans. But further on the back and there's still a problem apparently with information from -- -- is going to. Health insurance providers and that is such a pervasive problem that it was the subject of the White House meeting with insurance company CEOs. On October 23. The very next day -- secretary Sebelius was in Phoenix Arizona. She was touring health care -- call center where she said that day you can it's very easy that website doesn't work for you to -- role. By phone. Will we now know according to the documents that ABC news exclusively obtained at that simply was not the case here's -- the -- those documents the -- -- notes from October 15. It says here that that officials are working to share with leadership of health and human services that -- the contractor which -- process paper applications. And folks at the call centers are entering the scene portal as consumers so all are having the same problems. There's all -- -- it's even as I understand -- are also some clues inside the memos as to why the White House. Didn't make this perhaps clearer. Aside from the obvious political embarrassment of the flaws in how extensive they are. What do those documents say about why they were encouraging people to continue to file by paper and by phone even if it's all going through the same type. The -- in these notes from meetings with -- HHS. Suggest that that the administration was worried that people would lose faith or confidence in the system in fact quoting again from October 15. Navigators these are people who are actually on the ground to help people fill out these forms and answer questions. Navigators are seeing people very frustrated and walking away so they are turning to paper applications to protect their reputations from. As people in the communities who can help even though. Paper applications will not have a quicker result necessarily. Six days after this meeting -- which is -- was taken President Obama walked into the rose garden and said that folks can call this 1800 number to apply for coverage. A few days after that secretary should -- -- went a step further and said that not only can you apply by phone you can enroll by -- even know. Within HHS there were -- intense discussions at the agency that's overseeing health care -- -- If you could not actually in role that these problems were so pervasive they affected the entire system not just -- -- So it of course we should note that the White House has been pushing back on this just a little bit saying that all along this was made clear that. An application is simply an application -- that these consumers would. The -- contacted at a later date essentially with their -- options but -- I want to ask you before we let you go obviously this raises some questions. About what both lawmakers on both sides are calling a death spiral if the program doesn't get enough people to sign up there are some serious problems right. And the reason for that is simple economics of the actuarial actuarial -- speaking. This system requires that younger healthier people who have means -- role in these exchanges with premium dollars that they. Previously had had not been paying for -- that's with the importance of the individual mandates to get young healthy people. Into this system that's to offset the cost of insurance and health care for older sicker people. If young people. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- This death spiral scenario could play out insurance companies have basically until. The end of the open enrollment period to begin to think about what -- rates will be 42015. So think about this march 31 when he fourteen comes and goes and the administration does not see seven million people that CBO estimated signing up for these exchanges. The health insurance -- -- they have to decide for themselves exactly what the premium rates should be for 2015. And they have to start sending those rates to state regulators all across the country along with the federal government. This could become a real problems not just for the administration but for the health care system in the country as a -- -- really tight window. To get this right time is running out of course the administration says he'll have all these. Problems ironed out by the end of this month November 30 will all be closely watching that before let you go Steve. Tell us where things stand right now I mean is is the site getting better can we expect any more flaws over the next few days were wearing -- -- Jeff -- who is the guru and management guru has been brought in to fix this is that dozens and dozens of things haven't crossed off his punch list. That he is formed to try to they get to the bottom of this problem the site will be taken off line from 1 AM until 5 AM each night. So that contractors can can do the work they intend to have it fully operational where they say the vast majority of people can apply for and rolling coverage by the end of this month. By DeVon that so far that we're in week six of the open enrollment period. We have no details as to exactly how many people haven't -- in coverage but if these notes which we've recently obtained or any indication. October was a really lousy first month for health care -- A long way to go indeed ABC radio correspondent Steven Portnoy Stephen thank you so much for coming on and we want everyone to tune into ABC radio for the latest on this story let's go -- to the White House where Press Secretary Jay Carney. Is answering questions about all of this let's listen to -- While these states -- that's something that option. White House concerns. Well I would effort for sort of technical questions about how they're going about. Isolating -- identifying isolating and fixing the various. Problems with the web -- I would refer you see MS and their regular briefings. My understanding is that. There are periods where. On a regular basis. The website is taken down for some of this work to be done and that has been the case going back in -- October. Satellite based all fit that -- -- -- discussed the answer is not something I've -- discussed might. My understanding it and I would point to what -- science and others have said. -- -- The site is fixable and that there is an enormous amount of work going on -- -- on a daily basis to make the next necessary fixes and to upgrade. The site with the goal of making it. Fully functional for the vast majority of users by the end of this month and that work continues. It is important to remember that even as that work continues to improve the website which. Unquestionably needs improvement as -- acknowledge. People are able to. Get online. Get information that they need. Sign up and enroll. The problem has been -- not enough people have been able to do that and and too many people throughout this period since launch have experience. Frustrating delays or difficulties in making that happen. But from day one. Far too few and our view obviously because of the poorly functioning web -- from day one people have been able to use it to get information animals so. -- and that and that. Has improved. As we've been addressing the problems that existed in our view were able to do this so that. The website is functioning for the vast majority of users that. It is acceptable standards by the end of this month. Yes -- Thank you can you tell us about the president's event tonight at New Zealand and -- you can get from -- and from eight you know you'll hear the president talk about. The importance of the Affordable Care Act and and and you know the benefits that it provides to. Every American. And in particular those millions of Americans who are either underinsured or uninsured. And you know there's obviously a big effort underway to. Make sure that Americans cross country get the information they need to understand. What benefits are available to them including. Tax credits that are available to them. In order to purchase affordable and quality health insurance. And you know we're we're gonna continue that effort including. With the president's remarks tonight. Iran hikers. This week there will be talks on the on Iran's nuclear program continues. Today's the anniversary. This -- US embassy in Tehran. In the incident nine. What do you expect from fox and -- says that Iran -- from new ideas. This week. -- a couple things as the president has said the history of mistrust between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- -- And it will not be erased. Overnight. But what we are doing now is not about trust. We're engaged in serious and -- substantive negotiations. That offer the possibility that we can stop. The advance of Iran's nuclear program. Gain more transparency into their nuclear activities and negotiator long term comprehensive solution that resolves the international community's concerns. About Iran's nuclear program. Our goal is to verify it is it is our our goal. Is to achieve a verifiable agreement that does not allow. Iran to obtain a nuclear went weapon and -- set obviously that the window is open. For us to pursue this option. And -- to achieve our goal. Not allowing Iran to. Possess a nuclear weapon and we're going to aggressively pursue that while the windows open but it won't remain open indefinitely. So. You know we're obviously going into the size -- a wide open but as we've discussed. In the past. We need did it take advantage of this opportunity to see if in fact Iran is serious about. Addressing the international community's concerns when it comes to -- -- nuclear weapons program. In a way it is verifiable. For the United States and the whole international community that's concerned about it -- -- -- I don't think any message or any significance from. The fact that protesters continue to chant death to America demonstrations marking the anniversary here. No I I think -- We believe there it. The vast majority. Iran -- would prefer a better relationship with the west. And would prefer the benefits of that better relationship with the west including economic benefits. Rejoining the international community to the current status quo. I think that's what the elections. Told us that led in parts of this. Development in this potential breakthrough. You know will continue to focus on. Substantive. Negotiations. To help bring about policy goal that we see. The do what I did in the past here -- -- move up and down John Allen. We regret for the Washington. Well actually Brown's future. Along on focus blogs. And then he talked about the economy. There's this huge -- -- who have no you won't -- Wolfenstein. Start with the economy certain that immigration -- and -- program earlier. What is the focus of the White House right. Well as any as is the case -- White House we obviously -- A lot of issues that we're addressing at the same time. The principal organizing. Focus of this White House as directed by the president has always been the economy and job creation in middle class security. And that is why even when. By necessity. Some issues take. More of our attention in public and take more of the president's attention both in public and in private and that includes. Health Care Reform it includes prior to that. Syria and the debate over what to do about the use of chemical weapons by the Asad regime. Every day. The president and his team are. You. Pushing. Forward on economic issues on. Creating a better bargain for the middle class on -- trying to find ways that we can work with congress to. -- increase economic growth and job creation. And that's why you'll hear the president talk about. Matters economic and in the coming days because they're always. The first priority when it comes to domestic issues. You saw him last week host a rather speak to. The select USA. Summit here which was a remarkable event bringing. So many participants and it was oversubscribed. Around the idea that this country. -- needs to do with so many other countries do which is actively engaged in the process of soliciting foreign investment to the united states of the jobs are created here. High paying. Quality middle class jobs and you know which is not to say that we won't continue to focus as we obviously are on. These other issues but. Number one priority has and will be economic progress it was the day he was sworn into office when the economy was collapsing. Here in the United States and around the world. And it is today. And when you look at these issues. And I think this goes to the noise the that the president spoke about in his weekly address and that. The way that Washington often. Seems irrelevant to the concerns of the American people and -- -- sound like the grown ups and channel program. -- -- What most Americans when when this sort of issues breakthrough of late what they hear about Washington is. That because of a political fight -- ideological fight they shut down a government that harmed the economy. Produce job creation. You know that's. That's got to be enormously frustrating and I think we've seen that borne out in and some of the public data we ought to be doing what we can every day. To help the economy and help the middle class and certainly the president's -- To. -- -- -- you remember the president in the Rose Garden October 21 and I talked about troubles with the web -- -- you can bypass the web statement on my former person. And even said it what you get somebody on the phone you can usually takes about 45 minutes for an individual to apply. 45 minutes for a family. Good -- Released by the Government Reform Committee. -- that. The -- Was talking about how. The very same issues -- affecting. Written applications phone applications in fact when the memo says at the end of the day. -- -- all stuck in the same -- because all those applications have to go through. The web -- Have to go through the same computer system did the president know. It is very same problems would be facing consumers. When they called on the phone he said they can apply when. I was you know the answer is yes as was reported widely at the time the whole point. Is this EMS processing paper applications through hell -- here to act up but it bypasses the need to create an account. And creating an account is what what what led to the bulk issues for users in the initial days. Initially. On the launch. The marketplace is on October 1 you were not able to do that. By. And in response to the troubles that users were having on line. The unacceptable troubles that they were -- we -- up -- staffing the call centers and made it possible for. Individuals who called and and enroll and you know and sign up and and bypass most importantly. The creation of an account so they -- -- -- be handled by the Collins senators these applications are then processed through health care -- And we're working to fix health care -- -- but in terms of the user experience the whole point was to alleviate the frustration that so many Americans were having. On line and to take that frustration away for them from them and allow. A live person -- -- -- to. Handle their questions and there. Sign ups and their enrollment for them so I know this and review -- spoken in -- of dramatic revelation but it was known fact at the time. We never pretended. Otherwise so I I think as -- you know than they've talked people -- this they it. You know misses the whole point was to beef up the call on senators to -- to give and the American people are looking for information. Way to avoid some of the frustrations they were having on line but. But check. A lot of them aren't exactly -- -- I was about exactly what the president said he said you can bypass the web -- a plot by foreign person. And it can be done -- 45 minutes. But -- memo stated the end of the day we are all stuck in the saint -- they all have to go through the same -- John. I get it but the person who calls it isn't the one who continues to wait after the paper application is -- You're playing your ear markings entertaining but the president said he -- apply and 25 minutes that that was not true war. You can look I think everybody else looking -- because there's a reason equivocal here because you call up. You you get your information you get the questions answered the need answered and then it's they take over from -- and then you find out you know what you're eligible for. And the process goes forward -- -- -- what's your process you know once your application is processed the point was to relieve some of the frustration. Did Americans were understandably experiencing. And an. What you hear. If it's an individual roughly this is on average the the interaction you have when you give the information in order -- bypassed the creation of an account and -- sign up. So that you didn't have to do that on line. And then to enroll obviously would -- you know you would get in the information you need that would be processed you would find out. How much you qualified for and you could be enrolled that way but obviously but the job we have never said. That you wouldn't that the process the -- of the process wouldn't still have to go through health care -- act out so this is not. You beat your own workers are on October 20 -- -- that you see you can roll over the phone you can rolling person. On. On October 23 you sit there are four ways to -- exchanges. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Local the Oscars or buy it by mail or web site you sent a reporter for where's there's only one -- all -- to go through -- just at health care. -- -- -- -- what everybody said and again you know you can I you can have this year absolutely by yourself but the what the president gave the American public think the impression they imply. They could apply pressure and told people they get iphones -- if -- fall and the paperwork is filled out for them and the process has taken over from there they'd all. Won't have been brought wind when their paperwork is process through health care act but they don't have to go online to do it is the point. John that was the whole purpose -- while we are fixing the web site making it. Meet the standards that we set that Americans -- had this alternative way. With beefed up staffing and new rules allowing the call on senators to do this the individuals on call centers to do this to provide that relief to Americans -- are frustrated by the experience I think you. And I truly think you've discovered here John but -- -- -- asking whether the president thank you can bypass the web -- because -- just -- -- -- after the collapse. So which I think we've been through this. The US you call. You have an experience with you have a conversation with somebody in the -- and you give the -- information they process it for you that bypass the creation account. Which is where most of the bottom -- were happening. Four users on on the web site. Eventually that still has to go through health care act but you've you've you've done the work with it and eventually. -- give up. We'll look at whether you want everything from from Kathleen Sebelius told me this was active as October 24 she's Phoenix -- a person on the other phone. Can get questions answered uptick -- up -- -- 150 languages as well -- walk somebody all the way through the process and enroll at. End of the -- At the end of the day you get everybody you give somebody your information when you call up and sign up for something right now John and somebody takes your information and a process that. They process whatever is your signing up for enrolling in you know. They can do that monster off the phone you don't have to stay on the phone that's the point is to is to relieve Americans were frustrated by the their own role that it's -- right. Also I think everybody else -- understands what I'm saying I'm sorry I can't. Its -- yes yes. Given the current enrollment issues and people are having trouble in -- and obamacare buying insurance whatever. What about all of these folks who are losing their insurance currently because they're getting letters cancellation notices from ensures. Are all of those people going to be able to obtain insurance and time to avoid the fines and penalties. Yes and that's why we're so hard at work on making the web -- -- that's why we expanded the means by which you can get the information you need and bypass the creation of an account and you know it enroll the as you know the people. Are you publicity to white house Press Secretary Jay Carney at the White House briefing today fielding some tough questions from reporters including our own. ABC's Jonathan Karl asking about the newly reported difficulties in a rolling over the phone and by paper at. Health care dot -- the new obamacare insurance exchanges. ABC news memos have obtained show that that process iPhone and buy paper. Experienced the same difficulties. As the website process Jay -- -- defending that processing the answer is yes. The president stands by and that he knew at the time when he was directing people to the paper and phone centers for those applications that the process would also be delayed. Security abcnews.com for all the latest on obamacare this has been an ABC news digital special report. -- Devin Dwyer in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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