How Good Are Obamacare’s Call Centers?

The president touted them in his speech today, but McArdle claims that “the computer systems at the call centers for states running the insurance exchanges are the same as the computer systems that consumers are having such a hard time with”:

A nice woman at a federal call center told me that (at least for the state of Florida, where my in-laws live) there is an alternate procedure: They can fill out a manual application in PDF format. But she also told me that it takes three weeks for that application to be mailed to your house. After you receive it, you check the application to ensure it’s accurate, and then mail it in. One to two weeks later, you will be notified of your subsidy eligibility. Then you can actually enroll in a plan, though she wasn’t quite clear on how that part would work — do you call back again?

This may work for older people who simply can’t figure out how to use computers, or for desperately ill people who have been rebuffed by the computer system . . . but so will repeatedly logging in until you finally get the system to work. It is unlikely to get loads of healthy, young, premium-paying folks to sign up for insurance and thereby make this whole thing financially viable. And by the time we’re ready to default to this option, it’s unlikely that there will be enough time to make it work.

Philip Klein ran into another, smaller problem with the call centers:

Obama encouraged Americans seeking insurance to sign up the old-fashioned way by calling 1-800-318-2596. But when I tried calling the number and followed the prompts in what I deemed the most logical manner, I got referred back to the website and its live web chat feature.

Suderman analyzes other aspects of today’s speech:

If President Obama was confident that the online exchange system was on track to be fixed in short order, that would have been the highlight of his message. It wasn’t. Indeed, much of his speech was devoted to arguing that Obamacare is more than just a website, and to explaining how people who want coverage can still enroll in coverage outside the exchanges.

Ezra’s take:

There was no clear explanation of what was going wrong. There was no timetable for when it would be fixed. Obama repeatedly said that he was angry, but he sounded ebullient. In the end, though, Obama’s speech doesn’t matter. Either the Web site will be fixed in a reasonable time frame, and the law will work, or it won’t be fixed and the law will begin to fail. The Affordable Care Act is no longer a political abstraction. It’s the law, and it will be judged not on how well politicians message it, but how much it does to improve people’s lives.