Early Reports Indicate Low Obamacare Enrollment

The Wall Street Journal reports fewer than 50,000 people have successfully enrolled on HealthCare.gov, and Avalere Health reports 49,100 enrollees in 12 state-based exchanges.

Dr. Martha Perez examines Maria Lebron in a room at the Community Health of South Florida, Doris Ison Health Center on February 21, 2013 in Miami, Florida.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
Add to Briefcase
Clara Ritger
Nov. 11, 2013, 12:20 p.m.

Two re­ports re­leased Monday in­dic­ate that the Obama­care en­roll­ment totals are far be­low White House es­tim­ates.

The Wall Street Journ­al re­ports that few­er than 50,000 people suc­cess­fully en­rolled in Af­ford­able Care Act cov­er­age on Health­Care.gov as of last week. And an ana­lys­is from Avalere Health—a Wash­ing­ton-based, health care con­sult­ing com­pany—finds that 12 state-based ex­changes en­rolled 49,100 people as of Nov. 10.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had es­tim­ated that 500,000 people would en­roll in Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to a Sept. 5 memo signed by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us.

Trouble cre­at­ing ac­counts and com­plet­ing the ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess on Health­Care.gov have pre­ven­ted con­sumers from sign­ing up for health in­sur­ance in the 36 states that rely on the fed­er­al ex­change web­site. The Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices—the HHS agency re­spons­ible for im­ple­ment­ing the fed­er­al ex­change—has said it would re­lease Oc­to­ber en­roll­ment totals some­time this week. Se­beli­us test­i­fied be­fore the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee last week, where she said it ex­pects en­roll­ment totals to be “very low.”

CMS Ad­min­is­trat­or Mar­ilyn Taven­ner told the Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions com­mit­tee last week that the agency would be­gin its pub­lic-aware­ness cam­paign in Decem­ber, after CMS’s Nov. 30 dead­line to have Health­Care.gov run­ning smoothly for “the vast ma­jor­ity of users.”

Edu­ca­tion and out­reach ini­ti­at­ives could help low num­bers in the states, which are at roughly 3 per­cent of their total an­ti­cip­ated 2014 en­roll­ment. Avalere Health’s study does not in­clude data from Cali­for­nia or Mas­sachu­setts, but the com­pany said the num­bers are lag­ging be­hind Medi­care Part D en­roll­ment, which were at 10 per­cent by the end of Novem­ber.

“En­roll­ment in new pro­grams be­gins slowly and of­ten takes sev­er­al months to build mo­mentum,” said Dan Mendel­son, CEO of Avalere Health. “While ini­tial en­roll­ment has been lag­ging, with ag­gress­ive mar­ket­ing there is still time for aware­ness of the pro­gram to grow and par­ti­cip­a­tion to be­gin.”

The Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice pro­jects 7 mil­lion people will en­roll in Obama­care cov­er­age in 2014.

HHS spokes­wo­man Joanne Peters said they could not con­firm The Wall Street Journ­al‘s re­port. “We have al­ways an­ti­cip­ated that ini­tial en­roll­ment num­bers would be low and in­crease over time, just as was the ex­per­i­ence in Mas­sachu­setts, where only 0.3 per­cent, or 123 people pay­ing premi­ums, en­rolled in the first month,” Peters wrote in an email.

HHS did not of­fer com­ment on the Avalere Health study, be­cause it is not in charge of the state-based ex­changes.

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