Obamacare Enrollment Is Surging

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

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the troubled launch of the Healthcare.gov website October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. The federal healthcare insurance exchange site has been plagued by problems since its launch on October 1. 
National Journal
Clara Ritger and Sam Baker
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Clara Ritger Sam Baker
Dec. 4, 2013, 6:36 a.m.

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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