The number of people who selected health coverage through state and federal exchanges more than doubled in November even as tech problems that have plagued the site linger, federal officials said Tuesday evening.
In a hastily organized conference call with reporters late Tuesday evening, Michael Hash, director of the HHS Office of Health Reform, announced that the number of people who had selected an Obamacare plan now totaled nearly 365,000, more than twice the 106,000 people who had selected plans in October. Of those 364,682, some 137,204 selected plans through the federal exchange, with 227,478 people signing up through state-run exchanges.
Still, the numbers are well below the administration’s previous estimates of enrolling 500,000 people in the first month and far off from its goal of enrolling 7 million people by March 31, the end of the open enrollment period.
Administration officials said they are still confident they’re on target to meet their goal.
“We think we’re on track,” Hash said. “We’re only two and a half months into a 6 month open enrollment period. We expect a bulk of enrollees will occur toward the end of the open enrollment period.” Though Hash cautioned that meeting the goal requires more than just “reaching a particular number.” He said “we need to look at this on a state by state basis. It’s really about who signs up and where.”
Indeed, the Obama administration has previously estimated it will need at least 2.7 million young and healthy Americans to sign up for health coverage in order to offset costs for other Americans.
Although the administration has not released demographic details about its enrollment numbers, recent polls suggest it may have trouble convincing these so-called “young invincibles” to sign up for health insurance through the exchanges. A new poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics found 57 percent of millennials disapprove of Obamacare, with 40 percent saying it will worsen their quality of care and a majority believing it will drive up costs. Among uninsured 18-to-29-year-olds, less than one-third say they're likely to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges.
CMS officials touted the website’s “successful” five-week repair effort culminating in a Nov. 30 re-launch as a reason for the surge in November enrollments. However, numerous technical problems on the back-end of the system remain, specifically with 834 transactions which delivers consumer information from the website to private insurers.
In the first month the exchange went live, about 25 percent of 834 transactions were erroneous; that error-rate hovers at around 10 percent now, according to CMS officials. This is significant because if any information is inaccurately transmitted to insurers it could cause major problems for consumers expecting to have health coverage on Jan 1.
CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille declined to say how many of the November enrollments would be effected by the errors. But she said CMS’s “top priority” is making sure the transactions are accurate. “We are actively working with issuers to make sure they are accurate and to make sure that moving forward consumers will be able to confirm their enrollment."
Officials also had no information on whether those who had selected plans actually paid for them. In order to receive health insurance, enrollees must send a check to the insurance companies who offer the plan. HHS officials on the call said they had no information on payment.
There were glimmers of hope in the HHS numbers. Some 1.9 million people made it through the application process but have yet to select a plan. That's more than double the 846,000 that completed the process last month.
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