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Federal health market surpasses 1 million signups

By Josh Lederman

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:29 a.m. HST, Dec 30, 2013

A December surge propelled health care sign-ups through the government's rehabilitated website past the 1 million mark, the Obama administration said Sunday, reflecting new vigor for the problem-plagued federal insurance market.

Combined with numbers for state-run markets due in January, 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 healthcare...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 healthcare," 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."


Alonso-Zaldivar reported from Washington.

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HonoluluHawaii wrote:
"The fledgling exchanges are still likely to fall short of the government's own targets for 2013. That's a cause for concern, because Obama needs millions of mostly younger, healthy Americans to sign up to keep costs low for everyone. The administration had projected more than 3.3 million overall would be enrolled through federal and state exchanges by the end of the year." One-third the projection. First of all, he won't need all those voters because he will not be eligible to be reelected. Second, close enough for government work. Third, if government work is close enough, then the rosy picture presented for our own MufiTrain is in jeopardy. Fourth, who cares?
on December 29,2013 | 06:52AM
1local wrote:
66% is failing - even at punahou... Need to also take into account those that lost their old plans through cancellation... 'the unaffordable care act' should have been read in its entirety before voting and signing into law - amazing lawyers voting without reading and the President signing without reading and understanding...
on December 29,2013 | 07:17PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I suspect they are enrolling a disproportionate number of older and sicker Americans and those signing up for Medicaid. The number of young and healthy who actually purchase a plan is the key number and one which is being hidden by the administration. This program only works if the balance of participants is right.
on December 29,2013 | 07:01AM
false wrote:
In other words, government programs never work, unless it is a monopoly that specifically only Government is most efficient at, such as The Army, The Navy, The Marines, The Air Force, The FAA, The FDA, The EPA, The SEC, etc. All others fail because private enterprise does a better job. Hence, the iPhone. Can u imagine Obama overseeing an invention such as the iPhone? Never in the infinite immortal lifetime of our Universe, will that kind of innovation EVER, will happen from any Government. Analogously, its time to dismantle the plans for our MufiTrain. Mufi, Neil beat ya, and even Tulsi beat ya. Confess, Mufi, u loser.
on December 29,2013 | 07:10AM
RichardCory wrote:
" Can u imagine Obama overseeing an invention such as the iPhone?" This is the most asinine analogy I have ever heard in my life. The President has no business in inventing products. Comparing the facilitation of an administrative program like federal health insurance to the development of an innovative telecommunications project is absolutely paralyzing in its lunacy. How high do you even have to be to say something like that? Also, it's spelled "you."
on December 29,2013 | 01:26PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
So u voted for Obama?
on December 29,2013 | 04:11PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Maneki_Neko, and we don't know about the 30 million that were not insured prior to Obamacare, or the 6 million who lost their health insurance because of Obamacare. Now, we can add the 60 to 90 million expected to lose their heath insurance covered by their employers in 2014. Then, the sticker shock. Yep, you're right on the numbers of older and sicker citizens who are concerned and must signup to get health insurance. Oh, what about their doctor and hospital?
on December 29,2013 | 07:37AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Kuroiwaj, a slight correction of fact. More than 6 million health insurance policies were canceled but the fact is that many policies covered married couples and entire families. No one knows the exact number of people who lost health insurance, but the number has got to be 20 or more million.
on December 29,2013 | 09:45AM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Mahalo Ronin006, didn't have any confirmed number on the family plans for individuals, but have an idea on the employer family plans. Obamacare will impact some 3/4's of the citizens in the United States.
on December 29,2013 | 10:52AM
loio wrote:
Cool, just 2 million to go towards destruction of the U.S. health care system. Train ... wreck.
on December 29,2013 | 07:45AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
And yet the Federal website is far, far more successful than that goat rope called the Hawaii Health Connector.
on December 29,2013 | 08:21AM
Ronin006 wrote:
After more than three years of outright lies and deception by the President and his administration, how can anyone believe anything he and his henchmen say now?
on December 29,2013 | 09:12AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
It was reported that far more people bought Beyonce's CD than signed up for Obamacare at the government website.
on December 29,2013 | 01:46PM
can wrote:
You ask how can anyone believe? Well, despite Mr. Obama's lack of qualifications to be US president that has become blatantly obvious to anyone paying a nickel's worth of attention to his job performance over the years, there are the hope and change faithful, the totally ignorant, the left-wing spinmeisters (paid pathological liars), the President's immediate family, and Bo the family dog who knows who butters his bacon. So, if they like their belief, they can keep...
on December 29,2013 | 02:01PM
sailfish1 wrote:
Do they really "butters his bacon"?
on December 29,2013 | 07:38PM
Papakolea wrote:
"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." It's a good thing young people don't vote. Oh, and by the way, please keep paying your Social Security taxes so old geezers like me can keep reaping the benefits of that program too.
on December 29,2013 | 03:39PM
Maipono wrote:
I finally was able to sign up for Obamadon'tcare! The only problem is that I won't make the January cut off. I need insurance for my company by January, so I applied before Dec 23rd and got nothing but a "a problem has occurred please call the administrator." When I called, I got an answer machine and voice mail, and no one called back.
on December 29,2013 | 04:44PM
st1d wrote:
good luck to you and your employees. hope nothing serious happens while everyone is exposed.
on December 29,2013 | 05:14PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
So I see we have the "Comment sent for approval" headache occurring elsewhere.
on December 29,2013 | 06:43PM
sailfish1 wrote:
That problem exists in all government offices especially in Hawaii.
on December 29,2013 | 07:41PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
"Combined with numbers for state-run markets due in January, 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." The real count is to see what the numbers are at the end of February 2014. Sign up runs to that time. Obama may yet get his 3.3 million. See I'm promoting positive news for BHO. Not all negative u know.
on December 29,2013 | 06:42PM
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