Sign-up figures tell disappointing tale

Print Friendly and PDF By: Andy Miller Published: Nov 13, 2013

Only 106,000 people signed up for coverage in the new Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges as of Nov. 2, according to federal figures released Wednesday.

The number includes 1,390 people in Georgia.

Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius

It’s the first official enrollment data since the Oct. 1 launch of the troubled website healthcare.gov, which is the portal for individuals without government or job-based coverage to obtain a health plan.

Just one quarter of the 106,000 enrollees came through the federal website that’s used by 36 states, including Georgia.

Georgia’s total is fifth-highest among those states, after Florida’s figure of 3,571, Texas’ 2,991, Pennsylvania’s 2,207 and North Carolina’s 1,662.

The rest enrolled in the 14 states and Washington, D.C., that are operating their own exchanges, most of which are running more smoothly than the federally operated site. 

The numbers released fall well short of the administration’s early goals of having about a half-million people sign up in the first month, Politico reported. The figures represent individuals who have selected health plans, whether or not they have actually paid for them.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the system is beginning to work, albeit slowly. “Even with the issues we’ve had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling,” she told reporters.

Republicans quickly blasted the new data, pointing out the lack of specifics.

“Even if this data was an accurate picture, the administration would need to enroll 68,000 people per day to meet their year-end goal,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in a statement. “However, the website isn’t even designed to handle that much traffic and is currently capable of only handling less than half that much.”

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the data “a symbol of the failure of the president’s health care law. It is a rolling calamity that must be scrapped.”

An additional 396,000 people were deemed eligible either for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program under the law, including 7,709 in Georgia.

That comes despite the fact that Georgia is not expanding its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. About half the states have opted to expand the program for the poor.

Cindy Zeldin of consumer advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future said Wednesday that the enrollment figures “weren’t a surprise, given the technical problems with the website.’’

Major new programs often get off to a slow enrollment start, said Zeldin, an ACA supporter.

She noted that the website’s functionality will become even more important next month. “For some people who do need coverage starting in January, addressing the technical glitches by early December will be critical,” Zeldin said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, House Republicans grilled the White House chief technology officer and other officials about the problems of healthcare.gov and how to fix them. The administration has vowed to fix the website by Nov. 30.

The White House has spent weeks trying to lower expectations about the enrollment figures.

The administration did not release details on the demographics of those who enrolled, what kind of insurance plan they chose or whether they qualified for subsidies.

More than 650,000 Georgians will be eligible for subsidies in the health insurance exchange, the seventh-highest total in the nation, a report said last week.

Almost a third of all the exchange sign-ups came from California, a state that’s running its own exchange.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 7 million people would enroll in the exchanges and 8 million would enroll in Medicaid in the first year, figures that the administration embraced as targets for the first enrollment period. The sign-up period goes through March.

The administration reported that there were 846,184 competed applications in the state and federal marketplaces for health plans (28,642 in Georgia) that would cover a total of 1,509,883 Americans, including 56,783 in Georgia.

“There is no doubt the level of interest is strong,” Sebelius said in a statement. “We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months, mirroring the pattern that Massachusetts experienced” when it implemented its own health reform law. Sebelius said the enrollment numbers will grow as healthcare.gov “continues to make steady improvements.”

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