Oregon Obamacare misdials going to guy in Florida
David Kenyon is used to answering questions. He runs Cover Wrap Communications in Vero Beach, Fla. He's especially good at answering questions about the value of the advertising that wraps around covers of magazines placed in a doctor's office.
He's not so good at answering questions about health-care plans 3,000 miles away in Oregon.
But at least Kenyon will take your call.
"My wife thinks I'm crazy for answering the phone when I see it is from Oregon," he said. "Calls come in until 9 p.m."
"Last Friday at dinner, I took a call at a restaurant. We had just been seated. It's pretty funny."
The calls started after Obamacare went into effect. Several states started their own websites, including Cover Oregon. The phone number for Cover Oregon is 1-855-CoverOR, or 1-855-268-3767. It turns out the phone number for Kenyon's business in Florida, Cover Wrap, is 1-855-CoverWR, or 1-855-268-3797. There's just one number different—a "6" sends you to Oregon, but a "9" sends you to Florida.
Kenyon said in October he "noticed an uptick in wrong numbers coming from Oregon." The calls were coming from people who had applied to the health-care website. "They're always checking on their applications," he said. "They'd just start in, and I'd say, 'I've gotta stop you. You called the wrong number.' "
He called Oregon health exchange officials to make sure they had the right number listed. "I was reassured by Cover Oregon that all numbers were correct on their website," he said.
People were simply misdialing. There was nothing Kenyon could do about it, short of changing his number, which would hurt business. "We have clients in Oregon and have no way of knowing which calls are good or bad, especially with new business calls," he said.
At first Kenyon let many of the calls go to voice mail, but he soon stopped doing that. "If I don't answer the phone," he said, "they leave very long voicemail messages explaining their questions or problems they are having signing up for coverage. Answering the call is just easier."
The only problem is when callers don't speak English. "I slowly give them the correct number. Then they say that is the number they called. I politely tell them to dial it again, and emphasize the '6' for (the letter) 'O'."
For a guy trying to run a business who is suddenly having to deal with misdialers 3,000 miles away, Kenyon seems more bemused than irritated. Most callers have been polite, he said, and no one has gotten angry with him.
However, the calls keep on coming. "I forward my office line to my cell at night so I don't miss any business calls from clients," he said. "Last Friday at dinner I took a call at a restaurant. We had just been seated. It is pretty funny."
(Read more: Obamacare: Real stories from real people)
Kenyon said the mistaken calls peaked in mid-December and have started to taper off. Still, "I just received another call five minutes ago," he told me. "Vanity 800 numbers can be a double-edged sword."
And so it goes. Last week Kenyon got a call from a woman in Portland, Ore., who joked after discovering her mistake, "Oh my gosh, you are getting all the unemployed dyslexics calling!"
His reply? He laughed. "I didn't even tell her she hit the '9' instead of the '6.' "
—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter: @janewells