- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2013

For the fourth day in a row, the Obama administration on Friday declined to release figures on how many Americans have purchased health insurance through the just-opened online markets tied to the new health care law.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that millions of people have visited the federal HealthCare.gov site, which directs people to coverage options, but he did not have “specific data” at this early stage in the enrollment period.

“We’ll aggregate it and release it, you know, at the appropriate time when we have collected it,” he said, noting enrollment will last until March 31.

Mr. Carney did, however, offer anecdotes about a pair of men who acquired insurance through the Affordable Care Act, including an Arkansas man who was an early critic of the law.

“All we can know now and what we can tell you now is that people are getting through the system, they are enrolling, there are great anecdotes out there of people who have successfully enrolled, and that process will continue,” he said.

People without employer-based coverage can sign up and shop for health coverage, often with the help of government subsidies, through the web-based insurance portals hosted by the federal government and select states.

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The markets went live on Tuesday, but have been besieged by technical problems that officials attributed to high interest and traffic on the websites.

“It is a volume that no one anticipated,” White House deputy senior adviser David Simas told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

In a late-afternoon press release, the Department of Health pitched the first week as a success even as it said it will take down the application function on the site during “off-peak” hours for maintenance, although the federal call center will still be open throughout the night.

“The enhancements we are making will enable more simultaneous users to successfully create an account and move through the application and plan shopping process … We expect that Monday, less than a week after the Marketplace opening, there will be significant improvements in the online consumer experience,” the agency said.

HHS also listed positive testimonials from insurance companies and news excerpts about successful enrollees in the various exchanges.

Yet on Friday, a 21-year-old Georgia resident who was touted at midweek as one of the few people who was able to acquire insurance through the federal website — a notable feat considering long wait times and “holding pages” on the site — clarified that he has not finished the enrollment process.

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Chad Henderson told the Washington Post he was able to sign up, find out what he is eligible for financially, and decided what plan he wants to buy, but never claimed he had taken the last step of purchasing a plan.

Republican critics of the law say this week’s wobbly start is proof that the law is going to be train wreck, as they predicted.

But the Obama administration has preached patience, noting every major reform initiative has a bumpy start and that enrollment will be slow while consumers do some comparison shopping.

“We are not anticipating that everybody who is going to enroll in a health care plan through the Affordable Care Act through these marketplaces is going to do so in the first week,” Mr. Carney said. “In fact, it’s a six-month enrollment period for a reason.”

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

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