The Obama administration began emphasizing the option of applying for insurance through the Obamacare Marketplace with a paper application ever since it became apparent that the online process at Healthcare.gov was riddled with problems. More recently, however, the administration began to shift the emphasis away from paper applications due to concerns they might not be processed in time to meet the deadline for January coverage. Now the link to the downloadable paper application at Healthcare.gov has been removed altogether.
A search for "paper application" on the site currently brings up a rather garbled result:
Clicking on the link brings up this message: "Sorry, we can't find that page." There are several other places on the site that also link to the now-missing page, but clicking on those links brings up the same "Sorry" message. An archived version of the missing page from December 4 shows that the page contained a link to the paper application:
Apply with a paper applicationYou can fill out a paper application and mail it in. You’ll find out whether you’re eligible for lower costs on private insurance, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Once you get your eligibility notice, you can either go online to compare, choose, and enroll in a plan or contact our call center. A customer service representative will help you.
If you or someone on your application are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, a representative will contact you to enroll.
Ironically, there is a new page on the website, just added on Monday, advising consumers how to actually enroll in a plan after having used a paper application or the telephone to apply, but that page does not include a link to the application download either. The application form is actually stored on the website of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and is still available, but it is not accessible from anywhere on Healthcare.gov.
The missing link could prove embarrassing for the administration even as officials tout the success of the fixes put in place by the recent "tech surge" headed by Jeffrey Zients. According to HHS, hundreds of bugs have been worked out of the system in recent weeks, but a simple broken link has now made one of the website's sign-up options that much harder to complete.
UPDATE: The paper application appears to have been restored.