Archived Story

Obamacare enrollment low

Published 10:11am Thursday, November 14, 2013

Democrats unhappy as only 106,000 sign up through health exchanges

WASHINGTON — Add simmering Democratic discontent to the problems plaguing “Obamacare,” now that first-month enrollment figures are out.

The White House is rushing to come up with an unspecified fix as early as this week to counter the millions of health coverage cancellations going to consumers, at the same time it promises improvements in a federal website so balky that enrollments totaled fewer than 27,000 in 36 states combined.

The White House also is taking a more open approach to changes in the law itself. “We welcome sincere efforts,” presidential press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday at the White House as Democratic impatience grew over a program likely to be at the center of next year’s midterm elections for control of Congress.

After weeks of highly publicized technical woes, the administration had said in advance the enrollment numbers would fall far short of initial expectations.

They did, easily.

A paltry 26,794 people enrolled for health insurance during the first, flawed month of operations for the federal “Obamacare” website.

Adding in enrollment of more than 79,000 in the 14 states with their own websites, the nationwide number of 106,000 October sign-ups was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected — and a small fraction of the millions who have received private coverage cancellations as a result of the federal law.

The administration said an additional 1 million people have been found eligible to buy coverage in the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce their premiums. Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, which covers low-income people.

Republicans were unmoved.

“Even with the administration’s Enron-like accounting, fewer people have signed up for Obamacare nationwide than the 280,000 who’ve already lost their plan in Kentucky as a result of Obamacare mandates,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

Administration officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in the program’s future. “We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in overall charge.

“Even with the issues we’ve had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling,” she added.

Despite the expressions, the White House raced to reassure anxious Democrats who are worried about the controversial program, which they voted into existence three years ago over Republican opposition as strong now as it was then.

Senate Democrats arranged a closed-door meeting for midday Thursday in the Capitol with White House officials, who held a similar session Wednesday with the House rank and file.

So far, five Senate Democrats are on record in support of legislation by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to make sure everyone can keep their present coverage if they want to. The bill would require insurance companies to continue offering existing policies, even if they fall short of minimum coverage requirements in the law.

The measure has little apparent chance at passage, given that it imposes a new mandate on the insurance industry that Republicans will be reluctant to accept.

At the same time, a vote would at least permit Democrats to say they have voted to repair some of the problems associated with the Affordable Care Act, as many appear eager to do.

Minn., other exchanges do better than federal site

ST. PAUL — New federal figures show Minnesota and other states running their own health insurance exchanges are doing better than the 36 states relying on the problem-filled federal website.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says completed applications have been filed for over 31,000 Minnesotans. Nearly 6,800 of them have been deemed eligible for subsidies to help pay for private plans, while nearly 9,200 others are eligible for Medicaid. But only 1,774 had gone as far as actually choosing an insurance plan offered on MNsure as of Nov. 2.

While MNsure’s launch Oct. 1 was plagued by glitches, it’s generally running smoother now than the federal site. MNsure officials have said they’re pleased with the pace of enrollment and expect it to accelerate as a Dec. 15 deadline approaches.


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