Putting a statistic on disappointment, the Obama administration revealed Wednesday that fewer than 27,000 people signed up for private health insurance last month in the 36 states relying on a problem-filled federal website.
States running their own enrollment systems did better, signing up more than 79,000, for a total enrollment of over 106,000.
Still, that was barely one-fifth of the nearly 500,000 people administration officials had projected would sign up the first month of Obama’s signature program, a numerical rebuke to the administration’s ability to deliver on its promise. 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.
The administration said an additional 1 million or so applicants have been found eligible for government-subsidized private coverage in new state-level insurance markets, and about half are within sight of having their plans lined up for the start of next year. An additional 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.
The numbers landed amid a political storm on Capitol Hill. Democrats who had hoped to run for re-election next year on the success of the health care law are increasingly worried.
It’s not only the website woes, but a wave of cancellation notices hitting constituents whose individual health insurance policies don’t measure up to the law’s requirements. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has scheduled an all-Democrats meeting Thursday with White House health care officials.
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.
Some outside experts are concerned. “People are starting to get nervous because there is not enough indication from the government that things are on track,” said Caroline Pearson, who runs the health reform practice at Avalere Health, a market analysis firm. “You wonder if there are still underlying programming problems that are causing the system to shut down when volume is high.”
Administration officials have not specified what “running smoothly” means, or what would constitute the “vast majority” of users.
In Congress earlier Wednesday, the House’s chief investigator plunged into the technical issues behind the dysfunctional rollout.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is investigating a long list of issues: insufficient testing, possible security flaws, design shortcomings — even allegations of political meddling.
But as his hearing went on, there didn’t seem to be a “smoking gun” behind the technical failure that has mortified supporters of the health care law and cheered its opponents. The technology’s cost to taxpayers: north of $600 million and climbing.
It was the sixth major congressional hearing since computerized insurance markets went live Oct. 1 and millions of consumers encountered frozen screens. The oversight committee was sharply divided along partisan lines.