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
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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