The president urged the public to pick up the phone while kinks to Healthcare.gov get sorted out.
While the Affordable Health Care website is being fixed, Americans can buy affordable insurance “the old-fashioned way,” said President Obama.
“You can bypass the website and apply by phone or in person,” said Obama during a speech in the White House Rose Garden, addressing widespread technical glitches to Healthcare.gov. “Don’t let problems with the website deter you from signing up, or signing your family up, or showing your friends how to sign up, because it is worth it.”
The new push to pick up the phone comes after a rocky health care exchange launch on Oct. 1, coincidentally, the same day as the start of the government shutdown. Billed as the main online portal to shop for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, users have been experiencing error messages and long waits getting the pages to load.
Officials have been blaming the sheer traffic volume of more than 19 million unique visitors for bogging down the site, but acknowledged there's more work to be done.
“There's no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow,” admitted Obama. “People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am.”
Consumers in 36 states can dial 1-800-318-2596 – a toll-free number Obama repeated aloud – to get covered under Obamacare. He said wait times averaged less than one minute and, once you get through to someone, allow 25 minutes for an individual to apply and about 45 minutes for a family. As a follow-up, people will be contacted via email or regular mail confirming their coverage status.
“Even with the website issues, we’ve actually made the overall process of buying insurance through the marketplace a lot smoother and easier than the old way of buying insurance on your own. Part of the challenge here is that a lot of people may not remember what it’s like to buy insurance the traditional way,” said Obama.
Following the president’s lead, the phrase it’s “not just a website” was repeated by Press Secretary Jay Carney and the Ways and Means Committee Democrats, who tweeted a picture of a landline phone.
As administration officials conduct a “tech surge” to deal with the specific website issues, they doubled the amount of call centers during peak hours to meet the high demand.
Initial reports after the president’s speech indicated the phone lines were clogged up. That appears to have subsided, at least for now; MSNBC called the main number late Monday afternoon, and the wait time to reach a live human on the phone was less than three minutes.
Republican lawmakers started to refocus their attention on delaying the individual mandate due to all the tech problems with the rollout. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he planned to introduce a bill to delay the law six months until the website is "fully functional."
A newly released Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests Americans see all the technical problems as a bad sign of bigger problems with Obamacare to come. About 56% said the issues are part of a broader with the rollout while 40% considered it an isolated incident.