- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nearly 365,000 people selected a private health plan on state Obamacare markets through the end of November — a sign that people are flocking to the patched-up federal website, HealthCare.gov — although the new pace falls short of long-range projections for an inaugural sign-up period that ends in March.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday announced a total of 364,682 enrollees in private health plans from all states in Oct. 1-Nov. 30. The release came shortly before agency Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was slated to testify before Congress about the state of the health care law’s implementation.

The new report says more than 227,000 people enrolled on 15 state-run exchanges and that more than 137,000 signed up through HealthCare.gov, the federal website that serves 36 states.

Among Medicaid enrollees, slightly more than 803,000 thousands people have been determined eligible for the state-federal entitlement program, HHS said.

“We fully expect these numbers to grow over time,” said Julie Bataille, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, citing ongoing tech fixes and public outreach.

More than a quarter million people selected private health plans in November alone. And the federal exchange system’s cumulative tally amounts to more than four times the number of private-plan enrollees it chalked up in October — an indication the Obama administration’s “tech surge” to fix HealthCare.gov took hold with the public, or that users pulled the trigger after surveying their options for several weeks.

California led the way overall, with more than 107,000 enrollees selecting private plans since Oct. 1 on the state-run exchange that serves the most populous state in the nation.

New York State of Health followed in second with more than 45,000 enrollments, while state-run exchanges in smaller states such as Kentucky and Washington State have contributed 13,145 and 17,770 enrollments, respectively.

Among states relying on the federal exchange system, Florida has chalked up nearly 18,000 enrollments and Texas crested 14,000.

Although data was unavailable for the D.C. exchange, officials for D.C. Health Link said they’ve received 5,603 online applications for coverage. Oregon came in last among all states with just 44 enrollments in private plans, according to HHS data.

However, Cover Oregon said Tuesday its latest data shows it had enrolled 730 people into private coverage as it sifts through paper applications by hand and tries to fix its web portal.

The overall data shows enrollment is not on pace for the 7 million private-plan enrollees the Congressional budget Office projected under Obamacare by the end of the six-month enrollment period on March 31.

Administration officials exuded optimism during a conference call on the data, saying enrollment in prior health initiatives spiked ahead of deadlines and should continue to improve amid technical fixes to insurance portals and continued public outreach.

“We think we’re on track, and we will reach the total that we thought,” said Michael Hash, director of HHS’ Office of Health Reform.

The uptick in enrollment also is unlikely to sway Republican critics of the law, who’ve lambasted Mr. Obama’s reforms as misguided and harmful ever since Democratic majorities muscled the law through Congress in early 2010.

GOP leaders and operatives says the law’s problems extend far beyond the site, forcing young and healthy people to effectively subsidize sicker consumers in state risk pools and disrupting doctor networks that patients enjoy.

They’ve also criticized the rate of Medicaid enrollments compared to those selecting private health insurance, sometimes with the help of government subsidies.

Some of the Medicaid enrollment may be from the “woodwork” population that only recently discovered their eligibility, yet under Obamacare more than half the states expanded the entitlement program within their borders to those making up 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

GOP critics say the law is bloating a “broken” system that is already overtaxed.

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