The Obamacare health-insurance exchanges enrolled 248 people in their first two days, as website outages and software errors hindered sign-ups, according to documents obtained by a congressional oversight committee.
Notes from three meetings at an Obama administration “war room,” obtained by Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, show six people had enrolled on Oct. 1, the first day of the website’s operation. The summary of an Oct. 2 meeting stated that “direct enrollment is still not working” and about 40,000 applicants were idling in a virtual “waiting room.”
The documents were circulated by Republican opponents of the health law who are seizing on the botched rollout even as a new poll shows more Americans than not want to expand Obamacare or keep it intact. About 7 million people, mostly those who are currently uninsured, are supposed to gain medical coverage in 2014 through exchanges created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
“We have always anticipated that the pace of enrollment will increase throughout the enrollment period,” Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said yesterday. The notes circulated by Issa don’t reflect “official enrollment statistics.”
The documents were released late yesterday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee led by Issa, who has been investigating implementation of the 2010 health law.
As of Oct. 25, Peters said, 700,000 people had submitted applications for insurance under the law. About half of those were through the federal online marketplace serving 36 states. The remaining 14 U.S. states built their own exchanges.
“We are focused on providing reliable and accurate information and we do not have that at this time,” Peters said, because of problems in transmitting enrollment data to insurers.
The flawed debut of the federal website is tarnishing President Barack Obama’s signature first-term legislative achievement and threatens his second-term agenda.
About 48 percent of Americans said the federal government is doing a “poor” job of implementing the health law, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released today. Still, about 47 percent said the law should be kept or expanded, compared with 37 percent who said they want the law repealed.
The president, a Democrat, is trying to implement a program that received no Republican votes when it passed through Congress. Republicans in the House have since voted more than 40 times unsuccessfully to defund or dismantle the health law.
Obama has accused the program’s critics of misleading the public about how the exchanges work. Speaking at a rally in Boston on Oct. 30, Obama said the experience of Massachusetts with the start of that state’s independent health-care system in 2006 shows that the federal version will succeed.
Obama spoke hours after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized at a House hearing for the website failures. While Sebelius declined to provide the number of sign-ups, she said initial enrollment is going to be low.
“There’s no question that given our flawed launch of healthcare.gov it will be a very small number,” she told the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
She said the government would release the first month’s enrollment by mid-November.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, led by Marilyn Tavenner, had been responsible for building and running the exchange website. She appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee this week and, according to the White House, met with Senate leaders yesterday.
Sebelius and Tavenner are scheduled to appear before Senate committees next week for more questioning.
About 8.6 million people visited the federal website in the first week, though most were greeted by long waits that prevented many from even registering. HHS has said that capacity is being added to the system and multiple upgrades are being made to the software code, though as of two days ago error messages were still being displayed for some users.
Jeffrey Zients, the former Office of Management and Budget official that Obama appointed Oct. 22 to help Sebelius’s department sort out the website’s problems, has said that the site will work smoothly by the end of November. The deadline to enroll in plans that begin on Jan. 1, is Dec. 15.
Getting the site fixed soon is critical as Americans who don’t have health insurance by March 31 may have to pay a fine of as much as 1 percent of their income.
Some lawmakers, including 10 Senate Democrats, have asked Sebelius to extend the law’s first open-enrollment period, which runs until March 31. Sebelius, Obama and other administration officials have said that even with the website’s problems, there is plenty of time for Americans to enroll.
Obama’s job-approval ratings hit an all-time low in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Oct. 30 that illustrated the political damage from the health law’s troubled rollout.
Forty-two percent of Americans surveyed gave Obama a favorable rating, with 51 percent expressing disapproval, according to the poll. That’s down from a favorable rating of 47 percent earlier in October and 53 percent at the end of last year, according to the poll.
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