- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Obama administration said Wednesday that roughly 106,000 Americans had enrolled in private health coverage through Obamacare by selecting a plan during the first month of activity, an expectedly low number of participants as the White House scrambles to fix the overhaul’s main website.

The Department of Health and Human Services released the figures after weeks of pleading from Republican lawmakers and other sources, offering the first look at enrollment in Mr. Obama’s signature law in the face of well-documented glitches on HealthCare.gov — a federal website that serves residents of 36 states.

HHS officials said 106,185 people had selected a health care plan, a number that covers enrollees on both HealthCare.gov and 15 state-based health exchanges.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the data, especially a figure showing more than 1 million people have been deemed eligible for an Obamacare-related plan, indicates strong interest across the country, even if her agency’s people are “not where we want to be” in terms of web performance.

“The marketplace is working, people are enrolling,” Mrs. Sebelius told reporters on a conference call.

Obamacare’s GOP critics took a starkly different view, saying the tally falls well short of the administration’s goal of nearly 500,000 enrollees in the first month — a figure outlined in an internal memo circulated on Capitol Hill — and fails to account for collateral damage from Mr. Obama’s reforms.

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“While there are still questions about whether these individuals have actually purchased a plan or not – these numbers are staggeringly low and are dramatically being outpaced by the millions of Americans who are losing their plans because of the law, despite the president’s promise they would not,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said.

Roughly a third of the enrollees, or 35,364, came from Mr. McCarthy’s state — the most populous in the union. New York contributed the second-most, with 16,404 enrollees.

Among high-population states relying on the federal exchange system, Texas and Florida accounted for 2,991 and 3,571 enrollees, respectively.

State-run exchanges contributed 79,391 enrollees, compared to 26,794 from the glitch-laden federal system.

The agency did not report any enrollment data from state-run exchanges in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts or Oregon.

However, D.C. Health Link reported Wednesday that 1,115 account holders had selected a health plan, and 565 of them had requested an invoice.

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Only 42 North Dakotans enrolled through the federal exchange, the lowest state total among states for which data is available.

The Congressional Budget Office projected 7 million people would enroll on the exchanges during Obamacare’s initial period of enrollment, which began Oct. 1 and lasts until March 31.

Web glitches put a serious dent in those projections, although the Obama administration has insisted that enrollment will likely pick up in the comings weeks, citing state-level trends in Massachusetts when launched health care reform in 2006 and saw enrollment trickle in slowly at first.

Officials say the website will be working smoothly for the “vast majority” of users by the end of this month, and that many consumers will explore their options before flocking to the site during the first two weeks of December, hoping to gain coverage by the start of the new year.The exchanges, along with the expansion of Medicaid benefits in select states, are a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The HHS report said 396,261 people who used the state and federal portals have been deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Some GOP critics worry that Medicaid enrollment will vastly outpace enrollment in private insurance, inflating the rolls of what they see as a “broken” and costly entitlement program.

Officials said the enrollment figures reflect persons who have selected plans, but may or may not have made their first payments to the insurer.

The private-plan enrollment data released Wednesday comprises roughly 10 percent of the 1,081,592 people who’ve logged on and been deemed eligible to enroll in an Obamacare plan.

The agency said 846,184 applications have been submitted for coverage on the exchanges, representing 1,509,883 individuals.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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