Here’s the good news the Obama administration wants the public to know: 846,000 people have completed applications for health insurance during the first month of the Obamacare rollout – an indication of strong demand for coverage under the program. In addition, traffic to the website indicated strong interest. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 27 million people visited health exchange websites, and state and federal call centers received 3 million calls with questions.
“We expect these numbers will grow substantially in the next few months. This data only represents only one month into a sustained outreach effort,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "As more people shop and talk things over with their families, we expect these numbers to rise."
Here’s the obvious downside that the administration must still contend with: Just a fraction of those applicants – 106,185 – have selected an insurance plan, far fewer than the administration had initially projected would sign up over the first month of open enrollment. Of those, only 26,794 made their choice through the federal marketplace covering 36 states, which has been plagued by a litany of problems. The remaining 79,391 purchased plans through the 15 other marketplaces run by states and the District of Columbia.
The roughly 106,000 signups is more than double the enrollment figures reported earlier this week by The Wall Street Journal, but the government’s number includes people who have placed a plan in their “shopping cart” but haven’t yet paid for it. The insurance industry doesn’t typically include such enrollees until they pay for their first month’s premium.
In all, the data will do little to stem the rising tide of criticism over the botched launch of the Obamacare website. “Even if this data was an accurate picture, the administration would need to enroll 68,000 people per day to meet their year-end goal,” Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “However, the website isn’t even designed to handle that much traffic and is currently capable of only handling less than half that much.”
President Obama needs 7 million people to sign up for health care by the end of March for Obamacare to work as intended, according to the Congressional Budget Office. If all of the people who completed an application were actually able to purchase a plan, he’d be well on the way toward his goal. Instead, technological breakdowns in the federal data hub; communications failures between insurance companies and the federal government; and the inability to purchase insurance directly through an exchange have frustrated more than a million people who are attempting to purchase insurance.
The White House has pledged to fix the federal exchange website by the end of the month, making it viable “for the vast majority of users,” according to Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services communications director Julie Bataille. But tech experts both inside and outside of the administration doubt that the site will be fixed by that deadline.
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