By Elise Viebeck - 10/23/13 10:00 AM EDT
The error-filled rollout of ObamaCare’s enrollment site appears to have put the administration well behind its initial estimate of registering half a million people in the new exchanges this month.
Experts also expect that many of the people who are enrolling are old and sick, and not the younger, healthier uninsured people needed to make the system work.
An administration official confirmed that 476,000 applications had been filed as of last weekend, a step that precedes signing up for coverage. At least half of these were from the 36 federally facilitated exchanges that have been plagued with problems.
A good number of those 476,000 people, however, could be trying to sign up for the healthcare law’s expansion of Medicaid, and not ObamaCare.
The consulting firm Kantar US Insights estimated that only about 36,000 people, less than 1 percent of the site’s visitors, completed the ObamaCare enrollment process by Oct. 5.
Obama on Monday said “thousands of people are signing up and saving money as we speak.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and healthcare experts argue early enrollment figures aren’t a concern because more people are expected to enroll closer to the Dec. 15 deadline for being insured on Jan. 1.
“People tend to enroll a couple of weeks to a month before deadlines,” said Avalere Health CEO Dan Mendelson.
He noted that there were jumps in enrollment for Medicare Part D and Massachusetts’s healthcare reform law as deadlines for getting benefits approached.
“I could not conclude at this point that the administration is behind,” the former Clinton administration official said.
The HHS says there is plenty of time to meet its goal of enrolling 7 million people by the end of March, and it insists it does not keep monthly enrollment targets, despite an internal memo leaked to The Associated Press projecting that about 500,000 people would sign up for coverage on the exchanges by Oct. 31.
“The administration has not set monthly enrollment targets. We are analyzing data about the uninsured, state plans for enrollment, and the experience of the state of Massachusetts which implemented a similar system,” a spokeswoman for the agency said in a statement to The Hill. “We continue to focus on reaching as many uninsured Americans as possible, based on experience on the ground. As it did in Massachusetts and Medicare Part D, enrollment takes time.”
Still, there is no question the administration is concerned that problems with the website will undermine its end-of-March goal.
Obama on Monday said no one is madder than him about the website’s glitches, and the administration on Tuesday said former acting budget director Jeff Zients would work with a team of techies to fix the site’s problems.
Some experts believe the problems plaguing healthcare.gov could be turning away younger users who are accustomed to a smoother Web experience and who are not sold on the idea that they need healthcare coverage.
“People who are older and sicker are very incentivized to come back and try again,” said Jon Wu, chief analyst with ValuePenguin, a New York-based consumer finance website.
Wu’s firm is behind a much-discussed alternative to HealthCare.gov where users can easily compare
ObamaCare plans and prices.
The site’s traffic has spiked in the last three weeks as users try to avoid the federal site, and Wu said many visitors to valuepenguin.com appear to be older.
“With health insurance, people are willing to shop multiple times and conduct a lot of research,” he said. “That’s definitely true of people who are older. It is not always true of people who are young and healthy.”
Sabrina Corlette, an expert with Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, said it’s too early to say the administration is behind its goal of enrolling 7 million people by the end of March. She said her “freakout” won’t come unless the December enrollment numbers are disappointing.
“If they look really crappy, then I think everybody should start to worry,” she said.