White House spokesman Jay Carney forcefully disputed suggestions that President Obama and other administration officials misled the public that consumers could register more quickly for Obamacare's insurance exchanges over the phone than through the botched website.
Earlier Monday ABC News, citing a series of internal Obama administration memos, reported that the dysfunction of the website had disrupted the entire enrollment process, including applications by paper and phone that officials have been pushing as more reliable alternatives.
The reports cite memos from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services which said all applications would have to go through the same computer system, ensuring similar delays for all registrants.
In a contentious exchange with ABC News' Jonathan Karl during Monday's press briefing, Carney defended statements Obama and other White House officials made directing Americans to call in to sign up.
Carney said Obama and other officials were only making consumers aware of multiple options to register for the insurance exchanges, bypassing the flawed website.
“The whole point is that CMS is processing paper applications through healthcare.gov, but it bypasses the need to create an account. And creating an account is what led to the bulk of issues for users in the initial days. Initially, on the launch of the marketplaces on Oct. 1, you were not able to do that by phone,” said Carney.
Carney said the Health and Human Services Department has hired more operators at its call-in center to give Americans frustrated by the website more options.
“[HHS] beefed up the staffing on the call-in centers so they could bypass the need to create an account to get right to the registration and the enrollment process,” he said.
He said the ramped up call centers were intended “to alleviate the frustration that so many Americans were having online and to take that frustration away from them and allow a live person at a call-in center to handle their questions and their sign-ups and their enrollment for them.”
“They can get on the phone and call and the paperwork is filled out for them and the process is taken over from there,” Carney added. “Their paperwork is processed through healthcare.gov. But they don't have to go online to do it, is the point.”
Carney would not address whether those phoning in their enrollment would get their applications processed any more quickly than those signing up through healthcare.gov.
Carney also sidestepped questions about whether continued problems with the registration system would force the administration to delay the individual mandate. He stressed that the insurance Americans are signing up through the exchanges will officially begin Jan. 1 for all those who enroll before then.
The registration website launched on Oct. 1 has been plagued with a slew of technical problems, embarrassing the administration during the rollout of Obama’s signature domestic achievement.