Obamacare enrollment numbers coming next week

Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, testified before a Senate committee Tuesday amid continuing problems on HealthCare.gov website. (Reuters)
The Obama administration will disclose next week how many people were able to enroll in health insurance through new online marketplaces set up as part of the president’s health-care law, a federal official said Tuesday.

During a Senate hearing on the troubled launch of the new health insurance Web sites, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency implementing the law, said that the government would release enrollment numbers for October some time next week. Administration officials previously had said more vaguely that the numbers would come in mid-November.

The much-awaited numbers are likely to be exceedingly low, because many people were stymied by technical difficulties that have prevented them from accessing the site since it was launched Oct. 1. Tavenner tried to tamp down expectations further on Tuesday, saying the administration expected enrollment to peak in mid-December and late March, with many of the coveted young and healthy people waiting until the end of the open enrollment period March 31.

There are other indications that the number will be relatively low. According to internal CMS documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the Web site’s problems, six people had successfully enrolled in insurance through the federal site by the morning of Oct. 2. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Tuesday also disclosed that, according to navigators and brokers she had spoken with, only three people in her state had signed up for coverage on HealthCare.gov as of Oct. 29 – and all of them may have gotten incorrect information about their eligibility for federal subsidies.

“We are aware, meaning the staff is aware, of this issue, and they are working on a fix to this issue …that is specific to Alaska,” Tavenner responded.

Murkowski also had something to say about recent news that the site would be down from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Eastern every day for routine maintenance. “Unlike what some may believe, the sun does not rise and set in Washington, D.C., or in Eastern Standard Time,” she said, noting that with the time difference, 1 a.m. in the District is 9 p.m. in Alaska – exactly the time when busy parents might finally have a few minute to get online and shop for health coverage.

Tavenner responded that the routine maintenance likely would go on for only a month, and that people would have other options to apply for coverage, such as paper applications, as well as the call center, which operates 24 hours a day.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.
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