November 6th, 2013
01:41 AM ET
9 years ago

Documents show first days of Obamacare rollout worse than initially realized

Updated 4:19 p.m. ET, 11/6/2013

(CNN) - A stack of daily updates written by Obamacare contractors shows the October rollout hit more walls than previously known: In the first days, half of the calls to the phone center had problems, paper applications could not be processed and up to 40,000 people at a time were sitting in the waiting room of

The 175 pages of internal updates during the sign-up chronicle the growing ailments and efforts to heal the system during October. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Republican Darrell Issa, obtained the documents from contractors involved and released them Wednesday.

"50% of the call center calls have issues," reads an entry on day three of the sign-up. "Anecdotal evidence supports a widerspread problem (with the call centers)," the October 3 document says.

Phone trouble continued into the next week. "Our call center reps can't see their screens," wrote an unnamed consultant on October 7. "So we need to train them ... with this issue." The following day, another note: "Call Center – Working with them to help them triage their issues."

At the same time, the paper applications starting to arrive were in limbo. "Serco still cannot process online the 500+ applications they have," reads one line from October 8 war room notes. Serco is the company paid to handle all the paperwork involved with the Affordable Care Acts sign-ups. Website problems meant that Serco, like individual consumers themselves, could not file applications online.

The Department of Health and Human Services points out the problems were at their worst at the beginning and either were fixed or are being fixed. “These are just notes by a contractor,” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters wrote to CNN in a statement, stressing that these documents present just one piece of the effort. “Many of (the documents) are more than a month old and they reflect static points in time in a fast moving process. We have made significant progress, as we have worked to identify issues, diagnose them and fix them.”

The updates indicate that contractors waited for HHS before directing people to the paper applications. An October 3 entry reads that navigators needed "approval from leadership" before directing people to the paper option That approval seemed to come by October 21, when another entry indicates navigators should use the paper forms.

The contractor documents are an up-close look at the asteroid field of issues with the Obamacare launch.

According to the war room notes: On day one, October 1, the system mistakenly rejected 90% of Medicaid applicants. The next day, estimates counted 40,000 people in the waiting room, while just 100 people had enrolled. By day three, it was clear that insurers were not getting the data for people who had signed up for their plans.

Systemwide issues were compounded by more isolated problems. On day six, Utah asked to shut down its exchange because the main insurance provider in the state had not been able to set up its template in the system. A few days later, on October 9, contractor notes say that the entire system has skipped some questions or information for 30% of all applicants.

A few days later, and another specific problem: insurers in Oklahoma were confused over whether they had to provide coverage for bariatric weight loss surgery (they didn't, sparking the need for changes to some plans).

Issues continued, but after the first week, the trend turned more positive.

On October 9, the war room update for the morning says, "About 60% of applicants are getting into without sitting in the waiting room." That left 40% who still had to wait. But the number was a vast improvement from the 90% to 95% percent the week before.

Filed under: Darrell Issa • Healthcare • HHS • Obamacare
soundoff (385 Responses)
  1. bdby

    I can just see the hackers surfing this site now for personal information. A treasure trove just available to steal. A good place for beginner hackers to cut their "teeth" as you would say.

    November 6, 2013 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  2. Gurgyl

    –Government-Exchanges will further reduce premiums. True–this exclusively to USA citizens–no wars spending.

    November 6, 2013 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  3. Diane

    President Obama delayed the employer mandate by a year. I believe he is falsely hoping we will all forget that a mere 5% (read – 18MILLION PEOPLE) had their insurance cancelled so far, before many more MILLIONS lose their insurance when the employer mandate does go into effect. REPEAL AND REPLACE! It is our only hope.

    November 6, 2013 07:31 am at 7:31 am |

    I have not read anything about CNN investigating the millions of people who are deny coverage by Republicans Governors when they won't expand Medicaid More and more CNN is sounding like FOX NEWS

    November 6, 2013 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  5. Evergreen

    Hold the companies these "contractors" work for responsible. Have the CEOs of these companies testify in the hearings to see if the provided the necessary supervision and resources to the "contractors." Also determine if the companies should reimburse the government for their shoddy work.

    November 6, 2013 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  6. MJ

    40,000 people at a time were sitting in the waiting room of
    Coming soon to a hospital near you...

    Thanks, socialism.

    November 6, 2013 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  7. John

    And people who lost their insurance are being told this will be better for them ?

    November 6, 2013 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  8. Charles

    Big government between you and your doctor. What a great idea.

    November 6, 2013 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  9. Joe Biden

    And who, beside the mindless cattle democrats are surprised by this?????

    November 6, 2013 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  10. Lynda/Minnesota

    Oh. There were glitches to fix? I would have never known. Thanks for this update, CNN.


    "Issues continued, but after the first week, the trend turned more positive."

    November 6, 2013 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  11. Steve

    Would we have re-elected Obama if we had known our insurance policies would have to be cancelled because of Obamacare rules?

    November 6, 2013 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  12. TheTraveler

    We know it was bad. We know there were some significant issues with the web site, phone exchanges and the system as a whole. We know the "numbers" are going to be pretty terrible due to these problems. Why keep harping on the negatives? Why keep rehashing "what went wrong" and start focusing on what is being done to rectify the problems.

    November 6, 2013 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  13. darth's daughter

    What do you expect from a money laundering administration?

    November 6, 2013 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  14. Charles

    In red states, premiums for 27-year-olds rose an average of 78% on ObamaCare exchanges, whereas in "blue states" that voted for Obama, premiums rose a smaller 50%.

    November 6, 2013 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  15. Marty

    Wow! What a debacle!

    November 6, 2013 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  16. johndrive

    This is truly unbelievable. Several weeks ago I attempted to complete an application via and my progress was stalled due to the failing system. I just could not complete the application and proceed to a completed application. I raised the white flag and went Old School – I printed out the application, filled it out and mailed it in. I have since learned through the call center representatives (very nice people by the way) that my application was entered into the website and has been completed. I however cannot access that application – as a matter of fact – the representatives could not access that document! The application exists – is waiting for my next steps – but the website does not allow access. I learned hat there now exists a problem solving group located somewhere in the US that the call center representatives can call for guidance. Their advice to my representative? "Tell your customer to be patient" Meanwhile Blue Cross is inundating me with emails and letters telling me to choose a new plan. If it wasn't so frustrating it would be comical.

    November 6, 2013 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  17. Ken

    On October 9, the war room update for the morning says, "About 60% of applicants are getting into without sitting in the waiting room." That left 40% who still had to wait. - USELESS Numbers unless you include total volume. For example, if you had 40,000 people in the waiting room on Day 3 and only 5,000 go through ... but on Day 10 you had 4,000 in the waiting room while 6,000 got through, essentially the system still sucks as only 5-6K could get through. But if Day 10 was more like 10,000 in the waiting room and 15,000 got through, that shows improvement.

    November 6, 2013 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  18. Fr S O

    It will only get worse.

    November 6, 2013 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  19. Looking for common sense

    Any private or public company would have simply delayed the start of the program rather than unnecessarily create stress, anxiety, and pain for millions of Americans ... BUT that would have meant Obama would be seen as negotiating with the GOP over the shut down, so it seems our President arrogantly punished and hurt millions of Americans for political gain. Had Obama simply delayed the individual mandate penalty, (not the program launch itself) the shutdown of the government would have been avoided, and this stressful period with the cancellation of millions of policies would not have happened. Think of it for a moment – Obama caused millions of insurance policies to be cancelled, and those people – for the moment – cannot get new insurance – and they are scared and confused.

    This is disgusting behavior from the Oval Office .. and this is just the system issue. There are more painful problems in the program itself as millions of folks lose their long standing doctors and policies - which they liked and wanted to keep. And for millions more – higher co pays and higher deductibles and making the ACA programs way too costly

    November 6, 2013 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  20. Tutuvabene

    Obamacare also needs to fix single prices for policy contents and not let insurers charge whatever they want. Rates should be overseen by a commission, similar to a rate setting body for public utilities.

    November 6, 2013 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  21. willy

    Of course only reported the day after election day.

    November 6, 2013 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  22. Matt

    Big dreams, no ability to execute. Not the change I believed in.

    November 6, 2013 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  23. tiredoflookingatthescreen

    And yet I've been playing Call of Duty all night, and I haven't had a single issue.....

    November 6, 2013 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  24. DrDanno

    I find none of this surprising or worrisome. This is how these things go. The problems will be fixed. And when people realize that any upgrade by definition makes old ways obsolete, they will realize that compared to where they would have been had the status quo been maintained, their costs will overall be the same or lower for better coverage; cost of healthcare to the governments and hospitals who now pay out of pocket for ER visits by the uninsured will go down; the rate of healthcare related inflation will continue to fall. People with pre-existing conditions or catastrophic illness will be able to find coverage and not max out their plan. And insurance companies will have to spend at least 85% of every premium dollar on actual healthcare rather than bigger salaries for the executive staff.

    Considering that the AFA is in fact an amalgam of Democratic and Republican ideas, including important contributions from the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, it looks like a pretty good bipartisan effort that's simply experiencing growing pains commensurate with the size of the baby.

    November 6, 2013 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  25. tom l

    For 3 years on these comments sections conservatives have talked about how there was no way Obama could keep the IYLYPYCKI pledge. It was impossible. For 3 years I have heard Sniffit, rs, DMFO, Rudy and the rest of the band tell us that we would be able to keep our plan. For 3 years the liberals said we could keep our plan. Was there one time where you said this would "only" affect 3% of the population? Was there one time where you talked about being able to keep a plan as long as there were no changes and if there were changes that we would then have to look at different plans? Sniffit, as one of the most thorough posters and one who always has the "research" why didn't you say that when we were saying there was no way he could keep the pledge? Why didn't any of you say that this would only affect 3% of the population (and we know it's way more than that)? Why were all of you silent and kept the mantra of "if you like youu plan, you can keep it. Period".

    Like the great George Costanza said..."it's not a lie if YOU believe it". I think that's what has happened to all of the lefties here. It's not a lie to them. They believe it.

    I just find it interesting and damning to the left that you never brought this up for 3 years.

    November 6, 2013 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16