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Health Care

Obamacare Enrollment Is Surging

Website fixes, spike in sign-ups may signal a turnaround for the law.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Oct. 30 about the troubled launch of the HealthCare.gov.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

December 4, 2013

Roughly 29,000 people signed up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov on Sunday and Monday, a source familiar with the enrollment numbers confirmed.

The figures are the strongest indication yet that the HealthCare.gov repair effort is working--and that's good news for the health care law overall.

After a disastrous launch on Oct. 1, officials scrambled to have the site working for the "vast majority of users" by Dec. 1. The Obama administration provided various benchmarks to declare success on the technical end. But the make-or-break metric for the website--and for Obamacare--is, and has always been, enrollment. And 29,000 enrollments in two days is an undeniably strong turnaround.

 

The site processed more enrollments in the first two days of its relaunch than in the entire month of October, when persistent technical problems made it all but unusable. Some 25,000 people used HealthCare.gov to sign up for coverage in October.

Hitting 29,000 enrollments over two days helps validate Democrats' belief that demand for insurance is still high, despite the bad publicity surrounding the site's initial launch. HealthCare.gov clocked 1 million visits Monday, but as October's experience proved, traffic is only a good thing if it translates into people actually signing up for coverage.

Enrollment is still substantively behind schedule, and the administration has a lot of work to do to make up for lost time. The broken website effectively shaved two months off the six-month enrollment window, and enrollment in October was only 20 percent of the administration's initial expectations.

The administration expects 7 million people to sign up, nationwide, by the end of the six-month enrollment window. Signing up 29,000 people every two days would still not be enough to hit that target, but it's a significant step in the right direction for the White House.

Between the site's ability to handle large amounts of traffic without crashing and the early spike in enrollment, the process seems to be getting back on track. It's not all the way there, but the administration says the site will continue to improve. Also, the White House and its allies haven't yet unleashed the multimillion-dollar ad campaigns they have planned to promote enrollment.

Health care experts have said that if the site was working well by the end of November, the administration could probably still sign up enough people to make the law's new insurance marketplaces viable.

A critical mass of people needs to sign up in each state for the new marketplaces to work, and about 35 percent of those people need to be healthy and cheap to insure.

Experts are expecting a spike this month, ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline to buy coverage that begins Jan. 1, and a larger surge in March, toward the end of the enrollment window.

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