WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – The White House released a dismal report containing long-anticipated specifics regarding the amount of people that enrolled in Obamacare.
The numbers, put forth by the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, indicate that 106,185 Americans have enrolled so far since the marketplace’s Oct. 1 launch. Fewer than 27,000 signed up using the federal health care website, which has been plagued by problems since its launch last month.
The 106,185 people who made it all the way through to selecting a plan represent just 1.5 percent of the 7 million people the administration hopes to enroll by next year.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said things will get better, and quickly. “There is no doubt the level of interest is strong,” she said.
Sebelius added: “The marketplace is working. People are enrolling.”
Sebelius did not state how many of those have enrolled have actually paid yet. Payments do not need to be received until Dec. 15.
States running their own websites did report more than 79,000 sign-ups.
Total private insurance enrollment after the first month of the health care rollout was only about one-fifth what the administration had expected during that time period. The administration originally believed that 494,620 people would have enrolled within the first month.
The report states that 846,184 completed applications were submitted to marketplaces.
Previously, White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that enrollment numbers are expected to be “lower than we hoped and we anticipated.”
“I promise you no one will be satisfied with the numbers,” Carney said.
Amid mounting issues, no confirmations were offered regarding national enrollment numbers on the matter. Today’s comments were the first official words offered regarding how many had signed up through Healthcare.gov for medical coverage.
The federal health care website made its disastrous debut on Oct. 1. HealthCare.gov repeatedly crashed, blocking millions from browsing insurance plans. Questions about its security mounted and cancellation notices hit millions of Americans who buy their own plans, undercutting President Barack Obama’s vow that those who liked their coverage could keep it.
Sebelius has become a popular target for attacks over its botched rollout. Republicans want her to resign and even some Democrats — while not mentioning Sebelius — say someone should be fired.
For months, Sebelius had projected steady confidence that the online health insurance markets would open Oct. 1 as scheduled in all 50 states and that a website that’s the key to public enrollments would be ready.
While testifying before a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last , she defended the health care overhaul, and apologized for the problem-riddled enrollment launch. She also had to address questions about a government memo raising new security concerns about the Obamacare website.
The White House raced to reassure anxious Democrats who are worried about the controversial program, which they voted into existence three years ago and which seems sure to be a major issue in next year’s election campaigns. The administration, trying to regain the initiative, for the first time indicated a willingness to consider legislation to stave off the wave of cancellations that’s compounding the website technology problems.
Some Democrats are seeking changes in Obama’s signature program, and key Republicans, many pressing for repeal, said that even Wednesday’s feeble sign-up figures appeared to be pumped up. The final number — 106,185 people — would be even smaller if it counted only those who finalized their enrollment by actually paying their first month’s premium, Republicans said.
Administration officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in the program’s future. “We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in overall charge.
“Even with the issues we’ve had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling,” Sebelius said. Responding to GOP critics, she said the first premiums are not due until Dec. 15.
The online, state-level insurance markets were envisioned as the new portal to coverage for people who don’t have health plans on the job. But the federal market was overwhelmed by technical problems when it opened Oct. 1, and the experience of state-run markets has been mixed.
The administration said an additional 1 million individuals have been found eligible to buy coverage on the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce their premiums. Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, the safety-net program that is shaping up as the health care law‘s early success story.
For many Democrats, concerns over the cascade of website problems has been compounded by the focus on Obama’s misleading promise that Americans who liked their health insurance plans could keep them under the overhaul. But millions of people are receiving cancellation notices. They have plans that for various reasons don’t qualify for the law’s “grandfather clause” protection against cancellations.
Obama has said he’s sorry that people are losing their coverage and has vowed to find ways to address “holes and gaps” in the law. Advisers originally said the White House was considering administrative fixes, not legislative options.
On Wednesday, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said, “If we can achieve this administratively, we will certainly look at that possibility,” but he added that the White House was also considering legislative ideas.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scheduled an all-Democrats meeting Thursday with White House health care officials.
Republicans, meanwhile, are holding hearings to keep the overhaul’s problems in the spotlight ahead of an election year.
“It’s kind of interesting to see as Obamacare implodes how everybody’s running for cover,” said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “Obviously, panic has set in on the other side.”
The administration has staked its credibility on turning the website around by the end of this month. From the president on down, officials have said that HealthCare.gov will be running smoothly for the vast majority of users by Nov. 30. They have not specified what “running smoothly” means.
The day was another blow for the administration and its supporters in Congress, who had been counting on Obamacare as a neutral if not winning issue in next year’s midterm elections.
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