Kathleen Sebelius and Barack Obama (Photo by Charles Dharapak/Associated Press) Kathleen Sebelius and Barack Obama (Photo by Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

Having trouble with your Obamacare? Call the New York Times.

After Richard Agler of Tavernier, Fla., faced snafus in registering his wife, Mindy, for coverage at the federal health insurance marketplace, he contacted his congressional rep, among others. No luck. Eventually he sent a letter to New York Times reporter David Segal, who takes on all manner of consumer issues in the paper’s business section under the column heading “The Haggler.” In a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog today, Richard Agler summed up the situation, saying how he’d failed to get Mindy onto the plan: “I couldn’t get them to do that after several calls. My congressman’s office was likewise unsuccessful. Mr. Segal called from the Times, and the next day it was done.”

Indeed, the Haggler himself wrote, “It would be fun to turn what follows into a lengthy tale, one in which the Haggler’s swashbuckling tactics, cunning and perseverance triumph over an intransigent bureaucracy. But the truth is duller. A day or two after an email to Mr. Albright, Mr. Agler wrote, ‘I think we have good news.'”

That doesn’t mean that Segal walked away from this victory with a smile. He failed to induce-cum-convince-cum-browbeat spokesman Aaron Albright of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services into explaining how Agler’s application went awry. At first, Albright cited privacy; Segal got Agler to provide a waiver; then Albright cited “policy” barring discussion of individual cases; Segal asked for a rationale for this brilliant policy. He then got what the Erik Wemple Blog calls PRRS, for Public Relations Repetitive Syndrome. Witness, via Haggler:

“Unfortunately, I can’t discuss individual cases,” Mr. Albright wrote in an email.


“Here’s a question that perhaps you can answer,” the Haggler wrote back. “Why can’t you discuss the Aglers’ case?”

“We do not discuss individual cases,” Mr. Albright responded.

“You mentioned that,” quoth the Haggler. “My question is, why can’t you discuss individual cases?”

“It’s our office policy not to discuss individual cases,” came the reply.

Allow the Erik Wemple Blog to join The Haggler in condemning this unwillingness to share information, not about the Aglers’ private information — which is none of our business — but rather an apparent misfiring of the federal health insurance marketplace — which is everyone’s business.

We, too, tried to get Albright to share more details about what could have gone wrong. And we failed.

In recent columns, The Haggler has taken on smartphone service, the high cost of phoning from prison and consumer billing methods at big companies. Jumping from topic to topic, private sector to public sector, quite clearly keeps a columnist from developing cozy relationships with PR types, so he’s free to clobber them when they devolve into tautologies.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.