December 06, 2013
Congressional lawmakers and staff are getting a hard lesson in the problems with the ObamaCare websites, as they run up against long wait times, technical failures and security issues with the D.C. exchange.
The problems prompted the House chief administrative officer on Thursday to write the Office of Personnel Management urging them to take “immediate steps” to make sure lawmakers and staff can enroll.
New problems emerged on Friday, with a Capitol Hill source drawing attention to an apparent scam in the system. The source detailed how, after telling the user the password was incorrect, the site directed the individual to a “forgot password” page — which then asked for highly personal information.
“On that page I was asked for my check card number and my ATM pin,” the source said. “I was fairly confident this was a scam so I called customer service. After a 103 minute hold time, I was told that this was indeed a scam.”
This only adds to the pitfalls facing congressional officials trying to sign up, as they experience the same kinds of difficulties that other would-be enrollees encountered since the Oct. 1 launch. The administration says many of the problems with the federally run HealthCare.gov have been solved — and enrollment indeed has accelerated thanks to improvements in the site — but HealthCare.gov and locally run exchanges like the one in Washington, D.C., continue to exhibit problems.
A message that went out to Senate staff on Thursday noted the DC Health Link site was experiencing “technical difficulties.”
On the House side, Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel described them as “significant problems” that are “preventing Members and staff in Washington D.C. and in district offices from enrolling in a healthcare plan via the DC Health Link website.”
“We are urging OPM to take immediate steps to ensure that all Members and designated staff have the opportunity to enroll in a DC Health Link plan and receive confirmation of that enrollment upon completion of the process,” he wrote.
Still, a number of lawmakers and staffers are getting through. The Washington Times reported that, as of Friday afternoon, 101 members of the House had enrolled. The Times reported that a third of Senate staffers and a quarter of House staffers had as well.
Congressional officials are currently enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Even for those who are unable to sign up for a new plan by Jan. 1 — when coverage under the ObamaCare exchanges begins — they will be able to stay covered under the FEHB until the end of January.
While the health care overhaul requires everyone to purchase insurance starting in 2014, congressional officials and staffers are in a special class in that they’re largely required to do so through the exchanges.
The law allows for some wiggle room, though. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took heat earlier this week after it was reported that he is allowing some staffers to keep their current plans. Those staffers, then, would not have to deal with the DC Health Link headaches this week.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized Reid earlier this week for giving some staff a pass.
“Sen. Reid’s decision to exempt his staff … is the clearest example yet of ObamaCare’s failures and Washington hypocrisy,” he said. “His staff worked to pass it and continue to promote it, now they don’t want to be part of it because it’s a disaster.”