O-Care enrollments tick up in November

About 260,000 people picked out private health plans under ObamaCare in November, bringing the total number of enrollments to about 365,000, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department announced on Wednesday.

While November’s figures are an improvement over the 106,000 who picked out a plan in October, the administration is well behind its original goal of having 800,000 people signed up through the state and federal exchanges in the first two months.

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HHS said in a conference call with reporters that it still expects to hit its goal of having 7 million people signed up under ObamaCare by March 31, 2014.

“We think we’re on track, and we will reach the total that we thought,” Michael Hash, director of HHS's Office of Health Reform said.

“We’re only 2 1/2 months into a six month open enrollment period,” he added. “We expect the bulk of enrollments will occur at the end of the enrollment period.”

The 365,000 figure includes those who have enrolled through HealthCare.gov and those who have gone through state-run exchanges.

The 14 states running their own markets continue to outpace those that opted for the federally run markets. The state-run exchanges make up 228,000 of the 365,000 total enrollees, with 137,000 having gone through HealthCare.gov.

The state markets have largely avoided the problems that have plagued the federally run exchanges, and have emerged as a rare bright spot in the healthcare law’s rollout.

In October, the state-run exchanges accounted for about 70 percent of the nationwide total. That percentage has dipped to 62 percent at the end of November.

Still, the 110,000 who enrolled through HealthCare.gov in November marks a four-fold increase over the low tally of 27,000 in October.

The Obama administration pledged to have the website working better for most consumers by Nov. 30, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said meeting that goal contributed to November’s jump in enrollments.

“Evidence of the technical improvements to HealthCare.gov can be seen in the enrollment numbers,” she said in a statement.

Hash said the website was “night and day from where it was on Oct. 1,” and that the administration is now seeing “tremendous demand” for health plans under ObamaCare.

The hope now is that the website can handle the influx of consumers expected to flood the markets in the weeks before the Dec. 23 deadline for those seeking coverage by Jan. 1.

In addition, some focus will turn to the back-end problems with the website.

HealthCare.gov botched as many as one in four enrollment transmissions to insurance companies in the months of October and November, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said last week.

That means about 30,000 applications will have to be re-evaluated before the end of the year.

The problem creates the need for federal health officials to reconcile individual enrollment records with a long list of insurers in a process one official described as “very intensive.”

The administration will also continue to be hounded for data that shows who is enrolling.

HHS has so far provided no information on the demographic makeup of the initial enrollees, including their ages and whether they had paid their first premium, the threshold for full enrollment.

The marketplaces need to enroll millions of people in order for insurance premiums to remain stable, including a significant percentage of young, healthy people to balance out the older and sicker people expected to flood the new system.

Hash acknowledged this on the call, saying that hitting the target of 7 million enrollees isn’t as important as hitting the demographic thresholds. 

“We need to look at this on a state-by-state basis because it matters who signs up and where,” he said.

The November figures suggest strong interest in Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people that has expanded in some states under the law. 

More than 800,000 have been determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program since Oct.1. At the end of October, that figure sat at less than 400,000.