Obamacare Sign-ups on Healthcare.gov Surge Past the 1 Million Mark

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AFP/Getty Images
By JOSH LEDERMAN and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR

HONOLULU -- The federal government's rehabilitated health insurance website has seen a December surge in customer sign-ups, pushing enrollment past the 1 million mark, the Obama administration says.

Combined with numbers for state-run markets, that should put total enrollment in the new private insurance plans under President Barack Obama's health law at about 2 million people through the end of the year, independent experts said.

That would be about two-thirds of the administration's original goal of signing up 3.3 million by Dec. 31, a significant improvement given the technical problems that crippled the federal market during much of the fall. The overall goal remains to enroll 7 million people by March 31.

"It looks like current enrollment is around 2 million despite all the issues," said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, a market analysis firm. "It was a very impressive showing for December."

The administration said that of the more than 1.1 million people now enrolled in the federal insurance exchange, nearly 1 million signed up in December. The majority came days before a pre-Christmas deadline for coverage to start in January. Compare that with a paltry 27,000 in October, the federal website's first, error-prone month.

"We experienced a welcome surge in enrollment as millions of Americans seek access to affordable health care coverage," Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a blog post announcing the figures.

The numbers don't represent a full accounting for the country.

The federal website serves 36 states. Yet to be reported are December results from the 14 states running their own sites. Overall, states have been signing up more people than the federal government. But most of that has come from high performers such as California, New York, Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut. Some states continue to struggle.

Still, the end-of-year spike suggests that the federal insurance marketplace is starting to pull its weight. The windfall comes at a critical moment for Obama's sweeping health care law, which becomes "real" for many Americans on Jan. 1 as coverage through the insurance exchanges and key patient protections kick in.

The administration's concern now shifts to keeping the momentum going for sign-ups, and heading off problems that could arise when people who've already enrolled try to use their new insurance.

"They've got the front end of the system working really well," said insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski. "Now we can move on to the next question: Do people really want to buy this?" He also estimated 2 million will probably be enrolled this year.

The fledgling insurance exchanges are online markets for subsidized private coverage. Obama needs millions of mostly younger, healthy Americans to sign up to keep costs low for everyone. Open enrollment runs until the end of March.

Tavenner said fixes to the website, overhauled to address widespread technical problems, contributed to December's figures. But things haven't totally cleared up. Thousands of people wound up waiting on hold for telephone help on Christmas Eve for a multitude of reasons, including technical difficulties.

"We have been a little bit behind the curve," acknowledged Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), whose state has the highest proportion of uninsured residents.

"Obamacare is a reality," conceded one of the law's opponents, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who as House oversight committee chairman has been investigating the rollout problems. However, he predicted it will only pile on costs.

"The fact that people well into the middle class are going to get subsidies is going to cause them to look at health care ... sort of in a Third World way of do we get subsidies from the government for our milk, for our gasoline and, oh, by the way, for our health care," said Issa.

For consumers who successfully selected one of the new insurance plans by Dec. 24, coverage should start on New Year's Day. That's provided they pay their first month's premium by the due date, extended until Jan. 10 in most cases.

But insurers have complained that another set of technical problems, largely hidden from consumers, has resulted in the government passing along inaccurate data on enrollees. With a flood of signups that must be processed in just days, it remains unclear whether last-minute enrollees will encounter a seamless experience if they try to use their new benefits come Jan. 1.

The White House says the error rate has been significantly reduced, but the political fallout from website woes could pale in comparison with the heat that Obama might take if Americans who signed up and paid their premiums arrive at the pharmacy or the emergency room and find there's no record of their coverage.

Officials are also working to prevent gaps in coverage for at least 4.7 million Americans whose individual policies were canceled this fall because they fell short of the law's requirements. The administration has said that even if those individuals don't sign up for new plans, they won't face the law's tax penalty for remaining uninsured.

A few states offering their own updates have posted encouraging totals, including New York, where more than 200,000 have enrolled either through the state exchange or through Medicaid, a government program expanded under Obama's health law to cover more people. In California, a tally released Friday showed nearly 430,000 have enrolled through the exchange so far.

Castro and Issa spoke on NBC's "Meet The Press."

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setanta54s_back

AGAIN AND AGAIN-----if this bs is so great and WAS IN SUCH DEMAND,
why the f is there A LAW forcing US to BUY IT ?

wake up AMERICANS.

January 01 2014 at 3:57 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
evictorstarr

Remember that "enrollments" does not mean the enrollees actually HAVE insurance; sending the enrollees' data to the picked insurance companies is still problem plagued. And actual payment has to occur, which isn't happening. Also, the feds covering 36 states have signed up less than what the 14 states on their own have done; hardly a reason to tout any success. And we're still short many more millions who have been knocked from their plans, so we're still worse off than when we started (assumning the goal is to have more people insured). And sign-ups so far indicate that we're now quickly on our way to a policy premium increase "death spiral". The GOP will ferret out the costs of the subsidies to individuals and insurance companies soon enough; it's the next disaster we'll hear about. And, when all is said and done, the majority of some of our minority populations simply won't enroll; why pay anything when they're paying nothing now? And those that do enroll won't pay their deductibles; they pay nothing now to have routine colds, cuts, scrapes and bruises handled for free with emergency room visits. This dishonestly-sold fraud-based wealth-redistribution scheme is doomed.
But, hey, America elected this socialist and re-elected this foolish disaster despite growing knowledge of his utter incompetence. You get the government you deserve!

January 01 2014 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
COMMON SENSE

Before you sign up Several Hospitals and Doctors are not accepting Obamacare

December 31 2013 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Schmaltz

Wow, that's so great but
Question 1: With all the billions spent and all the turmoil with citizens loosing coverage how many of the 1 million account for the 40 million uninsured that Obama and friends intended this plan to cover.
Question 2: How many million citizens were canceled from their non Obama approved plans that are now uninsured?
Question 3: When will America wake up to our failed government and replace the rulers with representatives?

December 31 2013 at 2:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
tomkota

CALL AND SORT THEM AND NOW THE TRACKING ALL YOU CELL PHONE CALLS....WHOS FOOLING WHO MR PRES...........

December 31 2013 at 12:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
tomkota

WOW OVER A MILLION HAVE LOGED ON TO THE WEB SITE AND LOOKED AROUND..
BUT WHAT THER NOT SAYING HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE ACTUALLY ( PAYED) FOR THER INSURANCE? JUST MORE SPIN.....4 YEARS TO PUT TOGHTER A WEB SITE,
AND FROM WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE OVER 600 BILLION SPENT ON IT SO ...AND OBAMA SAYS THE GOVERMENT IS NOT SO GOOD AT TEK STUFF.....YES THE CIA, NSA, CAN RECORD ALL PHONE CALLS IN THE USA AND STORE AND SOR

December 31 2013 at 12:37 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
tj1108

Not many (especially media) seems to realize that a lesser number of sign ups than figured means higher premiums next year. They are already much higher and a high deductable to boot.
I wonder how many people with children are going to realize that their insurance does nothing for them untill they pay the deductable.

December 31 2013 at 11:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
createidea

HONOLULU -- The federal government's rehabilitated health insurance website has seen a December surge in customer sign-ups, pushing enrollment past the 1 million mark, the Obama administration says.

LOL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

December 31 2013 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
rgmac12

Surge ....

And if they keep going at this pace they will finish the "mile" in 15 minutes ..... and be given a ribbon and a trophy for participation

And this aint no tortoise and teh hare story

December 31 2013 at 10:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
graeves

Calling sign ups a surge. What do they call the number of people / policies dropped, an avalanche?

6 million policies canceled representing 15 million people. So maybe sign up 1 million (only 1 out of 6 have paid) but you loose 15 million. Welcome to double speak. Political spin spin spin.

The real train wreck in healthcare starts now and spreads over the next 2 years.

December 31 2013 at 9:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply