WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday defended its request that consumers frustrated with the malfunctioning healthcare.gov website apply for coverage by phone after it emerged that customer service operators must still use the troubled website to assist callers.
The issue flared up at Monday's White House news briefing after ABC News reported that an Oct. 11 memo from the Department of Health and Human Services claimed that all applications — whether submitted by phone, paper or online — are processed through the healthcare.gov website, which serves as the entry portal for the federal health insurance marketplace.
That means frustrated users aren't bypassing the website when they use the HHS call center or submit paper applications. They're merely leaving it to someone else — who would still have to navigate a frequently problem-plagued system — to create an account for them.
"The same portal is used to determine eligibility no matter how the application is submitted," read an HHS memo obtained by ABC News. "The paper applications allow people to feel like they are moving forward in the process and provides another option. At the end of the day, we are all stuck in the same queue."
Julie Bataille, the communications director for HHS's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, declined to address the accuracy of the memo Monday, saying only that "notes are not official documents."