According to a detailed report released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 106,185 Americans chose new plans through new Obamacare exchanges during their first month in operation. The federal government included in this figure those who have purchased new plans and those who have selected plans but not yet paid for them.
The new federal exchange website handling Obamacare enrollment in 36 states, HealthCare.gov, has been particularly problematic since it launched on Oct. 1. The site has crashed, operated slowly, locked users out, sent error-ridden information to insurers and been taken off-line regularly for maintenance. The impact of the site’s dysfunction was illustrated in Wednesday’s HHS report. Just 25% of those who had signed up for new plans through the marketplaces did so through HealthCare.gov. Three-quarters signed up via state-run websites, which have, in many cases, functioned much better. New York and California alone accounted for almost half of the 106,185 total sign-ups reported on Wednesday.
In an indication of how the website difficulties are affecting enrollment, just 3.8% of those who have completed applications and are eligible to enroll in federal exchanges have selected a plan, compared with 20.9% for state-based exchanges, which have been unaffected by the worst of HealthCare.gov’s technical errors.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged on Wednesday that the numbers fell well below the Administration’s expectations.
"I promise you that no one will be satisfied with the numbers because they will be below what we sought prior to the launch,” he told reporters about an hour before they were released.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said "even with the issues we’ve had, the marketplace is working.”
But House Speaker John Boehner said the numbers "underscore the urgent need for President Obama to allow people to keep the plans they have and like.”
"Above all, this report is a symbol of the failure of the President’s health care law,” Boehner said in a statement. "It is a rolling calamity that must be scrapped.”
In addition to those who have selected private insurance plans through Obamacare’s exchanges, HHS said 396,261 had been "assessed or deemed eligible for Medicaid or CHIP,” public insurance programs for low-income adults and children.
If the rollout of Obamacare’s exchange websites had gone more smoothly, it is likely more Americans would have signed up for new coverage by now. HHS said in its report that some 27 million people have visited the exchange websites so far. Sebelius has apologized before Congress for the bungled rollout of HealthCare.gov, and federal officials have repeatedly said the website will work smoothly "for the vast majority of users” by Nov. 30. Some congressional Republicans have called for Sebelius to resign over the error-ridden launch.
"The promise of quality, affordable coverage is increasingly becoming reality for this first wave of applicants to the Health Insurance Marketplaces,” Sebelius said in a statement on Wednesday.
Administration officials have said although they are disappointed by early technical problems hobbling HealthCare.gov and other exchange websites, they expected early enrollment to be slow. In her statement, Sebelius pointed to a similarly slow start in Massachusetts, which launched an Obamacare-like insurance-exchange system in 2007. "We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months, mirroring the pattern that Massachusetts experienced,” she said.
Open enrollment through Obamacare exchanges lasts until March 31, although users must sign up for coverage by Dec. 15 for plans that start on Jan. 1. Those who do not have insurance before March 31 will face a tax penalty next year under a provision of the Affordable Care Act known as the individual mandate.