WASHINGTON After a dismal start in October, the number of people who enrolled in health coverage on the troubled HealthCare.gov website more than quadrupled in November, according to new figures from the Obama administration.
The federal health insurance marketplace that serves 36 states enrolled 110,410 people in November, up from just 26,794 in October when technical problems stifled enrollment and created a political firestorm for President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
A massive site repair effort by hundreds of federal and private sector IT experts is credited with sparking the enrollment turnaround that has brought more than 28.4 million visitors to HealthCare.gov since October 1.
Collectively, the roughly 365,000 state and federal enrollees is far below the 800,000 new marketplace signups that the administration originally projected for October and November. But the administration hasn’t changed its goal of logging 7 million people into marketplace coverage by the end of open enrollment on March 31, 2014.
"We think we’re on track and we will reach the total," said Michael Hash, director of the office of health reform at HHS.
With just over three months left before open enrollment ends, the administration will make a push for sign-ups in states with large numbers of uninsured, like Florida, Texas, Illinois and Georgia.
"We expect to have a bump in enrollment at the end," said Nancy DeLew, acting HHS deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation.
After keeping its promise to have the site working properly for the vast majority of consumers by Nov. 30, the administration now wants to restore public confidence in the problem-riddled federal marketplace. Officials are spreading the word that web pages load faster, site error rates are down and capacity has grown to handle 50,000 simultaneous users and up to 800,000 site visitors each day.
The administration wants users who left the site in frustration before selecting a health plan to return and try again.
“While our door is open for new consumers and we invite them in, we are placing particular attention on those who still need questions answered in order to complete their enrollment process,” said Julie Bataille, communications director at HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The administration is confident that interest in marketplace coverage is high. From 12:01 a.m. Monday to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, HealthCare.gov had more than 800,000 visits.
More than 5.2 million people have phoned marketplace call centers to inquire about coverage. And 1.9 million people have been determined eligible for state or federal marketplace coverage, but haven’t yet enrolled in a plan.
People have until December 23 to enroll in coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2014.
Bataille called the new federal enrollment figures “encouraging,” but it’s the nation’s 14 state-run marketplaces that continue to set the pace, signing more than 227,000 people for coverage since October.
That far outpaces the 137,204 sign-ups on the federal site over the same two-month period.
California leads all states with more than 107,000 new enrollments, followed by New York, with more than 45,000. Texas posted more than 14,000.
Oregon, where the state-run marketplace is not working, has the fewest enrollments with just 44, followed by North Dakota with 265, South Dakota with 372 and Alaska with 398.
The federal and state marketplaces have also approved more than 803,000 people for coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which serve low-income individuals and children.
So far, only about 40 percent of marketplace applicants have been receiving federal subsidies to help pay for their health coverage. That’s far below the Congressional Budget Office estimate that roughly 90 percent of marketplace applicants would be eligible for assistance.
“We are obviously early in the open enrollment period,” DeLew said. “We’ve got a full six months. We don’t know if that will change by the time we get to the end of the six-month period.”
The administration still faces serious roadblocks to the enrollment efforts. Insurers continue to have problems with the accuracy of daily enrollment reports from the federal exchange. Errors may have affected one in four HealthCare.gov enrollments, according to HHS.
Staff at HHS and insurers are now going over each federal marketplace sign-up to make sure that consumers’ applications have been properly processed, officials said.