Health Insurance Numbers Creep Up On Obamacare Exchanges - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Health Insurance Numbers Creep Up On Obamacare Exchanges

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NBCNEWS.COM - About 365,000 people have managed to get health insurance on the new state and federal websites so far, federal officials announced Wednesday. The numbers are just a trickle compared to what officials had forecast and hoped for, but show that the balky federal website is better than it was at rollout on Oct. 1.

In the first two months the exchanges were open, 137,204 people signed up for health insurance on the federal exchange, being operated for 36 states, while 227,478 have signed up on the 15 state-run exchanges, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the exchanges, said.

The numbers do not include people who got signed up in December.

"We expect the numbers to grow over time, especially with the technical improvements that have been made to the website," CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille told reporters on a conference call. One source familiar with the data who has asked not to be named said 29,000 people signed up during the first two days of December.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she's asked her department's inspector general to review the website's development. "We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website," she wrote in a blog post.

"I am asking the inspector general to review the acquisition process, overall program management, and contractor performance and payment issues related to the development and management of the HealthCare.gov website."

The low numbers reflect the logjams and errors that made the federal website all but impossible for most people to use until December. They suggest it will be difficult to enroll 7 million people by the end of March, as was originally forecast by the Congressional Budget Office before the disastrous rollout.

But they also show that people have at least been trying. More than 39 million people have visited the state and federal websites since Oct. 1, although it's not clear how many of those may have been people logging on using duplicate aliases because of the glitches. Many have said it takes persistence to get signed on.

So far, 2.3 million people have been found eligible to buy insurance on one of the exchanges, CMS says. The officials said they hoped people will finish signing up now that many of the exchanges are working better. Forty percent of them qualify for some sort of subsidy. And more than 800,000 found out they qualified for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

"HealthCare.gov is now working smoothly for the vast majority of users," said Michael Hash, director of the Office of Health Reform at the Health and Human Services Department. "We invite those Americans whose experiences with HealthCare.gov have been frustrating to them so far to come back and try again."

Hash noted that four times as many people had signed up in November as during October, when fewer than 27,000 people managed to buy policies on the federal exchange.

"We think we are on track," Hash said. "We are only two and a half months into a six-month enrollment period. We expect the bulk of the enrollees will occur toward the end of the open enrollment period."

One indication of how much demand outweighs the site's capacity: More than 5 million calls have been made to call centers set up to help people enroll.

Some of the state-run websites have performed far better than the federal exchange. New York reports nearly 70,000 people have signed up there since Oct. 1 -- a number that includes 24,000 people in December. 

Not all have, though. Oregon has only signed up 219 people.

Bataille said CMS is reaching out individually to people who have started but not finished the signing up process to offer help. People who set up accounts got reminder emails in recent weeks.

She said CMS is also working with insurance companies to clear up one of the most serious problems – one that stops the final step of enrolling with a company. She said people need to make sure their applications have gone all the way through, that they have paid their first month's premium and that their chosen insurance company has them on the rolls.

Sebelius, who is scheduled to testify before a House subcommittee Wednesday morning, also says she's creating a new position called chief risk officer to review new initiatives, starting with the information technology contracting process at HealthCare.gov, and improve training on how best to hire contractors.

People have until Dec. 23 to enroll in coverage that will start on Jan. 1, the first possible day of coverage. They have until March 31 to sign up for 2014 and avoid a tax. Experts say most people will wait until the last minute to sign up.

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