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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Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
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