Officials at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services insisted that some people were able to get far enough into the site to peruse their insurance options, find out whether they qualify for financial help and ultimately enroll in a health plan. But administration officials, for a second day, declined to disclose how many people actually had enrolled and where in the country they live.
Meanwhile, interviews with health insurers, industry consultants, nonprofit groups and people trying to sign up for coverage suggested that the number was very low. Some companies that are offering plans on the federal site said Wednesday that no one had signed up with them.
“Very, very few people that we’re aware of have enrolled in the federal exchange,” said one insurance industry official, who like many in the industry, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for possibly offending the Obama administration. “We are talking single digits.”
A spokesman for one major Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in a southern state said that, as of Wednesday afternoon, it had not received word from federal health officials of any customers who had completed enrollment in the plan — even though a local news outlet had reported about a man who thought he had signed up. So, plan officials didn’t know whether the man’s enrollment was incomplete or whether the federal reporting of enrollment was running behind.
Whether the snags of the opening days — and the apparently small number of people enrolling right away — present a long-term problem is a matter of intense debate, given that consumers may sign up for the new coverage for the next six months.
Some insurers and policy specialists speculated that the small trickle of early enrollments reflects prudent decisions by consumers to shop carefully, exploring the price and coverage under the various health plans newly available to them. “I wonder if, besides the glitches, people aren’t going on to the system and being smart consumers. If they can get on, looking and comparing . . . but let’s not make a decision immediately,” said William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former top official at the insurer Cigna.
On the other hand, others said that the early kinks, especially if they persist, could undermine consumer confidence in a law that already has sparked fevered political opposition and widespread public confusion. “Everybody will give you a few days,” said Peter Beilenson, the chief executive of Evergreen Health, an insurer that is selling policies on the Maryland exchange. “But by next week, it’s got to be up and running.”