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Obamacare enrollment falls far short of target

The troubled federal website brought up to 50,000 enrollees in private plans in October, far below the White House's initial expectations.

By Money Staff Nov 12, 2013 12:36PM

This post comes from Christopher Weaver, Timothy W. Martin and Louise Radnofsky at partner site The Wall Street Journal.


The Wall Street Journal on MSN MoneyFewer than 50,000 people had successfully navigated the troubled federal health care website and enrolled in private insurance plans as of last week, two people familiar with the matter said, citing internal government data.


The figure is a fraction of the Obama administration's target of 500,000 enrollees for October. The early tally for the site, which launched Oct. 1, worries health insurers that are counting on higher enrollment to make their plans profitable.  

Technology problems and design flaws have blocked many users from completing insurance applications or even creating accounts to use the site, which serves consumers in the 36 states where the federal government oversees the new health-insurance exchanges.


Scott Trindl, a 59-year-old early retiree in Waukesha, Wis., said he has made attempts at traversing the website part of his daily routine. "I've been stuck," said Mr. Trindl, who hopes the law opens the door to private coverage he has been unable to obtain due to a heart attack he suffered in 2009.


The administration had estimated that nearly 500,000 people would enroll in October, according to internal memos cited last week by Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.). An estimated seven million people nationwide were expected to gain private coverage by the end of March, when the open-enrollment period is set to end.


The federal health official directly responsible for the online marketplace, Marilyn Tavenner, told a congressional panel last week the Department of Health and Human Services would release enrollment figures this week.


The administration thus far has said only that about 700,000 people had completed applications in all 50 states, using both the federal and state-run sites, in an Oct. 24 disclosure. An application is an early step for a consumer to determine pricing and eligibility for policies before enrolling.


Ms. Tavenner, who runs the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and her boss, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, both have told Congress that the initial numbers would be low.

Medical doctor © Corbis/SuperStock


So far, private health plans have received enrollment data for 40,000 to 50,000 users of the federal marketplace, the people familiar with the figures said.


HHS spokeswoman Erin Shields Britt said Monday she couldn't confirm the enrollment numbers. She added that officials expected the largest share of enrollees to arrive later, citing the state health overhaul law in Massachusetts that rolled out in 2007.


"We have always anticipated that initial enrollment numbers would be low and increase over time, just as was the experience in Massachusetts, where only 0.3%, or 123 people paying premiums, enrolled in the first month. And, as we have said, the problems with the website will cause the numbers to be lower than initially anticipated," Ms. Shields Britt said.


In some cases, insurers have reported receiving duplicate enrollment forms and other data-integrity problems, but the people familiar with the matter said they believed the 40,000 to 50,000 figure reflected an accurate count of enrollments through late last week. The number reflects enrollment data sent to insurers from the marketplace.


The figure doesn't include people in the 36 states who used the federal website to learn if they qualified for Medicaid, a federal-state health program for low-income people. Medicaid is being expanded in some of those states. The federal website cannot yet transfer information to the states about people who discover on that they are Medicaid-eligible.


The figure represents an improvement from the website's first days. On Oct. 1, when it opened, only six people signed up for coverage, according to internal administration memos released by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee. By Oct. 3, 248 people had enrolled, the memos suggested.


"Given the problems we have witnessed and experienced, that [40,000 to 50,000] number is actually higher than I expected," said Cliff Gold, chief operating officer of CoOportunity Health, a nonprofit insurer offering plans in Nebraska and Iowa. CoOportunity has seen its daily enrollments tick up from the single digits last month to double digits this month. "We're encouraged that the numbers are going up, but it's still not a seamless experience by any means," Mr. Gold said.


Separately, 12 of the 14 states that are running their own exchanges have tallied roughly 49,000 enrollees, excluding most Medicaid beneficiaries, according to a report released Monday by Avalere Health, a consulting firm.


Supporters of the law say they expect the largest share of enrollees to arrive late this year.


The relatively low numbers aren't likely to relieve insurers' growing concerns as the problems drag on. "As a national number, it just seems like such a drop in the bucket," said Allan Einboden, chief executive of Scott & White Health Plan in Temple, Texas.


Democrats acknowledge that the window is closing to fix the website and smooth out the enrollment process. Jeffrey Zients, who was named by Mr. Obama late last month to lead the effort, has said the site would be repaired for "most users" by Nov. 30.


Doug Ulrich, a 59-year-old in Roanoke, Ill., said it took him half a dozen tries just to create a profile on Late last month, he finally was able to review premiums for some plans.


Mr. Ulrich, who runs his own financial-planning firm, said he wanted to sign up by Dec. 15 but is hesitating because he also wants to review small-business plans. That part of the site isn't yet working.


"I've got a month to make a decision, and I don't even have the information available to me," Mr. Ulrich said.


The tight timeline has insurers worried. Already, insurers have said their incoming enrollees from the federal exchange are significantly older than anticipated. Because the law bars insurers from charging unhealthy customers higher rates, insurers must attract young, healthy customers to offset the costs of people who use more medical services.


"It's important not to look simply at the number of people who enroll, but also the mix of people who are purchasing coverage," said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry group. "At the end of the day, what matters most is what does the enrollment picture look like over the entire six-month enrollment period" ending in March, he said.


Mr. Zirkelbach declined to comment on the current enrollment figures.


The administration hasn't said whether it will release demographic data such as ages when it announces the number of enrollees.


-- Amy Schatz contributed to this article.


More from The Wall Street Journal:

Nov 12, 2013 1:01PM

How many millions, or billions in taxpayer dollars have been spent, or will be spent for a measly 50,000 americans to have crappy government mandated unaffordable health care? 


Obama's legacy......

Nov 12, 2013 1:27PM
In insurance industry language, it's called the "death spiral."  That's when only sick and subsidized people buy the insurance and young, healthy people can't afford or are unwilling to overpay for a policy and subsidize the system.  Costs skyrocket, so premiums go up each year making it even more unaffordable until the system collapses upon itself.  Then it will be taxpayer bailout time.
Nov 12, 2013 12:58PM

So Obama thinks he can make a better pizza than Papa Johns?  No way.  Not only does he not have enough sales volume to cover his costs, but the customers he is attracting are all of the type that qualify to buy his pizza at below cost - money losers.   He has no customers buying his pizza at the high price he needs to make gross profit.


Even Harvard grads know that selling stuff below cost can't be cured by making it up with volume. 

Nov 12, 2013 1:12PM
What a train wreck.  Who in their right mind has confidence to sign up for a program wrought with this many unknowns and problems.  I hate to think the long term impact to our national debt.  More lies to come folks.........
Nov 12, 2013 1:21PM
And of those 50,000 how many are healthy young folks that don't need subsidies? I would imagine VERY few. The people that are going to put up with this disaster are the folks that are most motivated...those that have pre-existing conditions, those that are heavily subsidized, etc. This thing is a disaster of EPIC proportions. Own it "progressives", you made it happen! The Democrats will pay a heavy price in the upcoming elections, as they should!
Nov 12, 2013 1:25PM
The only thing not below expectations is the cost. Thanks liberal idiots.
Nov 12, 2013 1:44PM

Just add another layer to Obumble's stellar resume:


Record numbers in poverty

Record numbers on government handouts

The lowest % of taxpayers in history

Highest debt total in history and the moron still  has 3 more years

Unemployment higher than when he took office

Wealth gap widened under his watch


More handouts at the expense of the productive. You can't fix stupid by rewarding it with SNAP, section 8 housing, ADC,  and welfare. But the democrats can grow votes with it.

Nov 12, 2013 1:20PM
Government projections off? Who would have thunk?
Nov 12, 2013 1:23PM
All the young and healthy must band together and arm themselves to the teeth.  Obama's IRS jackboots will be coming to collect penalties for non-compliance.
Nov 12, 2013 1:00PM
Nov 12, 2013 1:53PM
The Democrats lied to us about ObamaCare. Remember it when you vote!
Nov 12, 2013 1:49PM
Time to reconsider ... so much hope .... such a waste ... what a failure  ...
Nov 12, 2013 2:22PM
Bill Clinton to Obama.... "Honor your promise" ..... Hillary to Bill.... "What does it matter now?"
Nov 12, 2013 1:44PM
Democrats are a bunch of mean spirited idiots who are not fit to lead. Everyone with half a brain saw this slow moving train wreck coming. Did anyone will really think that giving sick people expanded health insurance coverage would not lead to increased premiums and plans dropped that do not meet the Obamacare requirements? 
Nov 12, 2013 1:54PM
obamacare is reverse affirmative action to put it politely. it's discrimination against the middle class. to put it in politically incorrect terms is a form of slavery of the middle class. they will be enslaved to pay for the poor's healthcare. this is not based on race, it's based on class. it's designed to make this a more just and equitable society. the ruling powers worst nightmare is the class struggle story. it has the possibility of evolving into chaos.
Nov 12, 2013 1:22PM

This is a plan that relies of healthy young people who don't have coverage because they don't want to spend the money suddenly deciding they want to spend even more money for it. Only sick people and those who qualify for subsidies will sign up.  The fine for not doing it is low, low, low.


Nov 12, 2013 1:13PM
When this doesn't work Obama's next idea is giving people without insurance fake Canadian IDs.
Nov 12, 2013 2:48PM

Is anyone surprised this is happening. From day one when you had Pelosi telling everyone to pass the law today and we can read it tomorrow you knew this would be a disaster. It would be nice to know how many of the 50,000 people that did sign on are the young and healthy.


I have a feeling that most of the people who have signed up for this plan are the ones that had preexisting conditions and could not get insurance. Without the young and health signing up the total cost for these plans will skyrocket beyond control.


It is not wonder the politicians had themselves and their minions out out. They did not want to have to pay big time for their own mistakes.  



Nov 12, 2013 2:27PM
the website won't be fixed by december 1st. zients knows it won't.
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