Obamacare numbers reveal how fate of law rests on website

The federal Obamacare exchanges cover two-thirds of the country, but accounted for just 25 percent of first-month enrollment in the new health markets, signaling just how closely the fate of President Obama’s signature law is intertwined with a broken federal website.

The first glimpse at state-by-state interest in Obamacare shows that capacity issues and software glitches in HealthCare.gov put a dent in federally hosted enrollment, leaving fewer than 27,000 enrollees between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2 in the 36 states that have let the Obama administration run their exchanges.

“My main takeaway from that was, ‘Hey, the website’s broken,’” said Timothy Jost, a health-policy expert at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

But officials in states that set up their own markets are taking heart in the early numbers, released Wednesday by the federal Health and Human Services Department.

HHS said California contributed more than 35,000 enrollees in the first month, making up about one-third of nationwide participation, and easily outstripping the entire federal total. It helps to have a working exchange, and California is by far the nation’s most populous state.

Covered California spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said its state-run exchange is not interested in one-upping the states that must rely on the federal exchange, since the overarching idea is to get every American covered.

“It’s not a competition we want to be winning right now,” she said, but added, “I do know that when you work really hard on something like this, it is gratifying to see it succeed.”

Yet state-run exchanges have a tough road ahead to reach their targets by the end of open enrollment on March 31.

Through the first month, New York has signed up only 2.2 percent of its projected enrollment, Vermont captured 4.4 percent and Kentucky got 7.6 percent, according to an analysis by The Washington Times of HHS figures and six-month enrollment projections released by Avalere Health, a Washington-based consultancy.

Among the 36 states that rely on the federal exchange system, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania combined for just 8 percent of total nationwide enrollment.

Mr. Obama and his chief deputies have tried to beat back fierce opposition to the law in the Lone Star State, but Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz and other Texas leaders have told them to take their message elsewhere.

The White House and state exchange officials are preaching patience, hoping to keep public opinion on their side as Obamacare websites improve.

“The problems of the website have prevented too many Americans from completing the enrollment process, and that’s on us, not on them,” Mr. Obama said Thursday. “But there’s no question that there’s real demand for quality, affordable health insurance. In the first month, nearly a million people successfully completed an application for themselves or their families.”

The administration has said it will get the website working for the “vast majority of users” by the end of the month. From the start, they said consumers were going to weigh their options before flocking to the exchanges by early December.

“We always knew that October was going to be more of a window-shopping month,” said Ms. Gonzales, the California spokeswoman.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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