A trickle of D.C. and Maryland residents have signed up for health plans using the new insurance Web sites, according to information released by state and federal officials Friday.
Five people have officially purchased coverage in the District, the four insurers on the city’s online marketplace told Senate Republicans in letters released by Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) office Friday. And in Maryland, state officials have not sent insurers any enrollment data as they continue testing whether they can accurately transmit that information.
The numbers do not reflect people who have signed up for Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor. Nor do they include people who have gotten far enough into the program to select a plan but have not yet cut a check.
And in the District, they don’t include people who might qualify for subsidies to help them afford their premiums. Technical difficulties prevented city officials from processing those applications until last week.
Some insurers worry that early setbacks to implementation of the Affordable Care Act could make it difficult for potential customers to purchase their health plans.
“These problems are delaying the time period for consumers to enroll,” Peter Beilenson, chief executive of the Evergreen Health Co-Op, a Maryland insurer, said. “From a public health standpoint, it’s unfair to the consumers, especially the uninsured who want to take advantage of this.”
Evergreen knows of seven people who have selected their plan with the help of an insurance broker, but it has not yet received the forms that would confirm their enrollment.
Obama administration officials have warned that the national numbers they will release next week are also likely to be small, for two key reasons.
First, any coverage purchased on the marketplace does not take effect until Jan. 1, giving shoppers little incentive to buy early. HealthCare.gov’s botched launch, meanwhile, has made it difficult for even the most enthusiastic consumers to purchase a health plan.
The Senate Finance Committee released letters from the four insurers selling on the D.C. marketplace showing that two, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente, received a total of five enrollments.
Richard Sorian, a spokesman for the D.C. Health Link, said that the enrollment figures did not accurately reflect District residents’ interest in shopping on the marketplace.
He said that, as of Oct. 21, 321 people had selected a health plan they would like to purchase and 164 of them requested an invoice for their first month’s premium.
“Consumers have until Dec. 15 to finalize their selection by paying their first month’s premium in order to have coverage on Jan. 1,” he said in a statement. “We are very pleased with the strong, enthusiastic response from the residents and small-business owners in the District.”
The Maryland Health Connection has not sent out any enrollment data to health insurers. Officials there announced at a Friday board meeting that they would conduct an additional two weeks of testing before doing so.
“It’s taken us more time than we anticipated to be able to accomplish this task,” Josh Sharfstein, Maryland Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, said. “Our current calendar will still allow us to be successful.”
Virginia, where the federal government runs the insurance marketplace, has not yet released enrollment data.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that a key function of the health insurance portals — the determination of shoppers’ eligibility for financial assistance — will be offline for routine maintenance from Saturday night through Tuesday morning.
“All other services will be available as normally scheduled,” Medicare spokeswoman Julie Bataille said.
President Obama made another appearance Friday intended in part to tout his signature health plan. Speaking at the Port of New Orleans, he criticized a decision by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) – who was in the audience – to reject an expansion of Medicaid available under the new law.
Obama also touted the early successes of states such as Oregon, which cut its uninsured rate by 10 percent during the first two weeks of October. Oregon has enrolled more than 60,000 residents into Medicaid but, as of the end of last month, had not processed any private insurance applications.
Lena H. Sun and Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report.