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. 1Joyc

    Two days ago a family member received a call from Blue Cross/Blue Shield wanting to talk about the ACA (since her COBRA plan (administered by BCBS) had expired. They took her height and weight, address, etc., then transferred her to someone else. That person said "this is odd". Nothing is showing up in the system with your name. Did the person who transferred you take any info from you? So he gave her some quotes – premium $320/month (about $100 lower than COBRA), with a $6200 deductible ($5000 higher than COBRA). Every quote had a deductible of $5000 or higher. And this is for a person who is looking for work – no job right now. Still waiting on the email they were supposed to send, and MAYBE something in the mail. While some may be put on Medicaid, and others (depending on the State you live in) will get better choices, millions are NOT getting anything but a major medical plan.

    November 6, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  2. frank

    If this had been a private business it would have shut down by now

    November 6, 2013 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  3. JH

    anyone surprised? no? Didn't think so.

    November 6, 2013 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  4. cumulus

    So many scandals, so little time.

    November 6, 2013 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  5. Tell it like it is

    "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."

    LOL. What will you do? Issue some night-vision specs?

    November 6, 2013 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  6. adam

    There are also reports of personal information being sent to the wrong people. If these turn out to be true, that is a HIPPA violation and the government is liable to civil lawsuit and mandated penalties.

    November 6, 2013 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  7. JJ236

    Obamas rollout was not what was expected either.

    November 6, 2013 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  8. Marcus Wel

    It is time to repeal the ObamaCare disaster!

    November 6, 2013 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  9. Chris

    Too bad Republicans and the media didn't put this much effort into exposing the lies from the Bush administration regarding the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. To me, the lives of our soldiers and the billions of dollars wasted are a bit more devastating than a faulty website in the first days of its launch. Pathetic.

    November 6, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  10. Dianne Hill

    really? What was your first clue?

    November 6, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  11. Chris

    Why didn't this article lead with the last paragraph, and run a title like, "Obamacare enrollments: Big Improvements after just one week"

    November 6, 2013 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  12. RickN

    As a professional project manager with both IT and other product development experience,it appears that this program was badly mismanaged. Expectations were unrealistic. The 10/1/13 go-live date was most likely doomed from the first day. The schedule was probably a best case scenario that lacked time to resolve issues. This is common as management often doesn't seem to understand that "stuff happens" and best case scenarios seldomly pan out. The political reality of the wolves waiting to pounce if there was a delay in the individual mandate put the administration between a rock and a hard place. They decided to jump knowing this was going to be a clusterXXXX. I highly doubt that by the end of November this will all be working as intended. The result may be a tidal wave of democrats being voted out of office replaced with right wing extremists. I think the worst case scenario is now possible. Time will tell.

    November 6, 2013 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  13. Old West

    Who long as my family gets health insurance..

    November 6, 2013 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  14. QC_NB

    This is actually good news from a PR perspective. Nowhere to go but up and lots of room for heroes. Good thing the mid-terms aren't being held today

    November 6, 2013 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  15. TC

    Can you imagine if this administration tried to do something as bold as Kennedy's administration did when they proclaimed we were going to the moon...? I remember being so inspired and proud as a kid then. It's all very disappointing.

    November 6, 2013 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  16. Jack

    Self-destructed healthcare plan in the US history.

    November 6, 2013 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  17. Wade

    STOP placing this news in the political section! CNN you are a disgrace!

    November 6, 2013 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  18. WakeUpPeople

    When you deploy unqualified, incompetent people to lead and manage complex IT projects BASED ON PURCHASED CREDENTIALS you get what you engage: FAILURE. Remember – This was not a "technical failure". This was a managerial failure. Make no mistake about it. Hire talent who can handle BOTH management and technical. If you can't discover who that talent is – quit and remove yourself from the staffing equation. WE ARE LOSING OUR ECONOMY DUE TO THIS STAFFING IGNORANCE. WAKE UP AMERICA before its too late.

    November 6, 2013 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  19. observer1776

    While media attention is on the Obamacare train wreck, Obama's foreign policy train wreck is proceeding. The Egyptians are negotiating with the Russians to give them a naval base and Netanyahu is going to Moscow to strengthen economic ties between Israel and Russia. The Saudis are turning away from the US to do the same. This is what happens when you have a Marxist oriented community organizer as President.

    November 6, 2013 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  20. Skyler

    It's great that they're fixing this after such a poor rollout. This will be a great program once all the kinks are worked out.

    November 6, 2013 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  21. glk20c

    Oh, I thought they said Obamacare "lunch" worse than thought..... when do we get free lunches with our Obamacare?

    November 6, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  22. Minne Mouse

    How about talking about the now, of what's going on. What are the real numbers of how many people have enrolled in each state. The system pretty much crashed the first few days, with millions of users on the site. Yes, they were all waiting because no one could get into the sight or the phone line without waiting for hours, if they even got through at all. People can only wait for so long.

    Please inform us all of what's good about the website that's going on and the Affordable Care Act. We are a month plus past the role out date and there is so much criticizing going on still today.

    The government has been and still putting enormous costs, time and energy into this new site, So how it's it working in actuality for people who have enrolled or getting through the system. Positive feedback, this is what the public needs to hear. The Affordable Care Act is going to work and has been working, it's just going to take some time to get people enrolled into these new exchanges.

    November 6, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  23. iceload9

    The web site issue's will be worked out in time. What won't be worked out is the administrations deceitfulness about people losing their coverage. It's becoming obvious this was set up so insurance companies could dump their inexpensive plans and change them with more expensive plans without any competition. So what was sold to the American people as cost reducing is really costs increasing. Since nothing is being done about insurance company profits and the healthcare wild west billing system, how else could this end?

    November 6, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  24. Gerald

    "Worse than initially realized"

    Well, that's one way of putting it. Of course, there were quite literally millions of us who have been saying since 2008 that there was no chance - no chance whatsoever - that the government could pull this off. I have felt many emotions about ObamaCare since October 1, but "surprise" was never one of them.

    November 6, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  25. SG

    Not confident of the future for Obama Care? Drink more koolaide. What else could go wrong?

    November 6, 2013 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
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