Obama administration releases low health care enrollment numbers


The administration says fewer than 27,000 people managed to enroll for health insurance last month in the 36 states relying on the problem-filled federal website for President Barack Obama's overhaul.

The low numbers released Wednesday by federal health officials were even lower than estimates recently circulated. There was one bright spot: States running their own websites did better than the feds, reporting more than 79,000 sign-ups.

Even so, total private insurance enrollment after the first month of the health care rollout was only about one-fifth what the administration had expected during that time period.

Enrollment numbers totaled 106,185. A Sept. 5 administration estimate had projected that 494,620 people would enroll in the first month.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she expects things to improve.

Meantime, the troubled rollout of the insurance exchange website was the subject of a congressional hearing Wednesday.

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, blasted the site and called going live with it on October 1st a "monumental mistake."

Committee Republicans issued a subpoena for the White House's top technology advisor to appear, and Todd Park acknowledged the site has been "highly frustrating" for many users.

He told members that the goal is to have the site running smoothly by the end of November – although some are doubting that deadline.

 "On the day of the launch, President Obama should have known the harsh lesson we have all learned since that time. And that was they weren't ready.  They weren't close to ready.  This wasn't a small mistake. This wasn't a scaling mistake. This was a monumental mistake to go live and effectively explode on the Launchpad," said Rep. Issa (R-CA).

 "Nobody in this country believes that Republicans want to fix the website. For the past three years the number 1 priority of congressional Republicans has been to bring down this law," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

 "We are now able to process nearly 17,000 registrations per hour, or 5 per second with no errors," said Henry Chao, deputy CIO, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Park said the system was designed to handle roughly 60,000 users at any given time, but currently he estimates the system can handle about 25,000.

"I can say now that in addition to volume there are other key issues that have to be addressed with the site.  In terms of its performance, in terms of its stability, in terms of its functionality.  And there are aggressive efforts happening to do that which are making great progress. So it's getting better and better each week," Park said.

Issa asked about the launch of the website.

"Clearly on day 1 the system was overwhelmed by volume," Park said.

The Healthcare.gov website is a tool for Americans in 36 states to sign up for the federal health insurance exchanges.