HealthCare.gov Glitches Lead Many To Rely On Pen And Paper

When HealthCare.gov opened for people to start signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, there were glitches. Now, two weeks later, people are still having problems with the federal government's health exchange website, so some are turning to an older, trustier technology to apply: pen and paper.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. It's time now for All Tech Considered.

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BLOCK: Forget technology for the moment, good old pen and paper is the way many Americans are now signing up for the new health insurance exchanges. That's because of problems that continue to plague the healthcare.gov website that was supposed to be a one-stop shop for health coverage.

NPR's Elise Hu has been covering the rocky rollout of these exchanges. And, Elise, where do things stand with healthcare.gov today?

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Well, it's hard to know because the Obama administration is still not releasing numbers on just how many people have gotten all the way through that sign up process. Now, for the last two weeks, however, we do know that those who have tried to sign up online have run into long wait times, temporary outages, errors galore. So both applicants and insurers are telling us now that dead tree version - paper - has proven most reliable for now.

BLOCK: Most reliable, but still it just seems that filling out a paper application and getting that into the system is going to take much longer and complicate everything.

HU: Sure. And some states that are running their own exchanges are still actively discouraging paper. But I think for a lot of folks struggling to apply with the main federal exchange, paper is just a way to get all the way through the application process.

BLOCK: So, if more and more people are turning to paper applications, Elise, there still has to come a point when those are put into a computer system.

HU: That's right. And interestingly, the federal government might be better prepared for paper than they were for the online applications. There's a contractor called Serco got a $1 billion contract over the summer to process an expected six million paper applications. But the failure of the website enrollment right now could mean a lot more.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Elise Hu. Elise, thanks.

HU: Thank you.

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