Surprise: Obamacare's 1-800 Number Doesn't Work Either

Posted: Oct 24, 2013 10:24 AM

The website's super-busted, and is likely to remain that way for some time. But you know that already, and so does President Obama -- which is why he channeled the ShamWow guy during his surreal Obamacare pep rally earlier this week, pumping an 800-number as an alternative to the online exchanges. Operators are standing by, and all that. At least it's something, right? Well, the Washington Post's liberal Wonk Blog notices a small problem with Obama's old-fashioned Plan B. It doesn't work either:

In conversations this afternoon with the call center, I was repeatedly told that I could not enroll in coverage over the phone. "The only thing we can do is submit an application for you," one call-center representative told me. "We can't purchase anything for you." "No, you cannot do that," another one said, when I told her I had completed my application and would like to enroll in a specific plan.

You can ring up the Obamacare hotline, pray to get an actual person on the line, and submit an application. But you cannot actually enroll. Why not?

The second [step in enrollment] is eligibility verification: Healthcare.Gov needs to double-check that the shopper is the person they say they are, that they live in the right state and that have reported their income accurately. A computer system does this part; a call-center agent cannot. The last step is enrollment: picking a specific plan and paying the first month's premium. That payment goes to the insurance plan of the shopper's choosing, not to HealthCare.Gov, which helps explain why the call center cannot accept shoppers' payments.

Basically, the call centers ultimately rely on the busted computer system, too. Plus, it's pretty much impossible to "browse" various options and prices over the phone. Yet the president directed millions of Americans to dial the 1-800 number, assuring them that they could speak with an agent and sign up in less than 30 minutes. Many tried, resulting in fresh nightmares like this man's seemingly endless saga:

After a total of four-and-a-half hours on the phone with Obamacare's navigators (in addition to five hours spent online), he's still looking for answers. How many young, healthy people will endure this nonsense, especially if they're going to end up paying more? A separate customer had a rather colorful interaction with a navigator via Obamacare's web chat function, during which said navigator urged the consumer not to lose his sanity over the failed website before abruptly ending the interaction. How encouraging:

Unfortunately for consumers, repairing the so-called "front end" of has been pushed to programmers' back burner. Out of necessity. Ubiquitous expert Bob Laszewski tells liberal blogger Ezra Klein that based on what he's hearing, very few improvements have been made on either side of the tech mess since October 1. Obamacare's online exchanges are "in de facto shutdown" right now, Laszewski says, because fixing the consumer side of the website would severely inflame the insurer-end problems. Try to wrap your mind around this level of incompetence:

Government has to fix the back end before the front end...if they fix the front end for consumers and thousands of people or hundreds of thousands of people being enrolled before they fix the back end, we’ll have a catastrophic mess. When insurers are getting 10 or 20 or 50 enrollments a day they can clean the errors up manually. But they can’t do that for thousands of enrollments a day. They have to automate at some point. So I think the Obama administration doesn’t want to cross the red line to shut the system down, but I think this is effectively a shutdown in which they don’t say they’ve shut it down but it basically is shut down.

Another golden quote from Laszewksi: "No one has ever seen these kinds of errors before." This probably helps explain why techies are telling media outlets that razing to the ground and starting from square one would be more expeditious than trying to mend the insanely broken current iteration -- on which taxpayers have already dropped a cool $300 million (three times the original budget). Remember, Team Obama knew all of this was coming. They'd seen red flag waving for months, and last-ditch testing failed miserably. And yet the administration maintained its brave face, lying to the public, and spending millions of taxpayer dollars to promote a website they knew full well wouldn't work. Why? For the sake of keeping up appearances? And when reality came crashing down around them, the president rushed out to the cameras and told people to call a telephone number -- surely knowing that it, too, was effectively useless. This is gross, malicious mismanagement of the highest order.