WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – Putting a statistic on disappointment, the Obama administration revealed Wednesday that fewer than 27,000 people signed up for private health insurance last month under the Affordable Care Act in the 36 states relying on a problem-filled federal website.
States running their own enrollment systems did better, signing up more than 79,000, for a total enrollment of over 106,000.
Still, that was barely one-fifth of the nearly 500,000 people administration officials had projected would sign up the first month of Obama’s signature domestic program, a numerical rebuke to the administration’s ability to deliver on its promise. The 106,185 people who made it all the way through to selecting a plan represent just 1.5 percent of the 7 million people the administration hopes to enroll by next year.
As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, the numbers are even worse locally. While 23,000 submitted applications in New Jersey, only 741 were able to sign up.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said things will get better, and quickly. “There is no doubt the level of interest is strong,” she said.
The White House spokesman talked just before the numbers were released.
“I promise you that no one will be satisfied with the numbers because they will be below what we sought prior to the launch,” spokesman Jay Carney said.
But Republicans were quick to pounce on the poor enrollment numbers.
“Pretty stunning. Just another day in a series of mess-ups in Obamacare,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said on Wednesday.
The administration said an additional 1 million or so applicants have been found eligible for government-subsidized private coverage in new state-level insurance markets, and about half are within sight of having their plans lined up for the start of next year. An additional 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, the safety-net program that is shaping up as the health care law’s early success story.
On Capitol Hill, another administration official acknowledged just how bad things have been.
“Unfortunately, the experience on healthcare.gov has been highly frustrating for many Americans. These problems are unacceptable,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said.
Democrats are moving to fix what they say are the law’s problems. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is sponsoring a bill that allows you to keep your health plan if you like it.
Four other Democrats have signed on with her, but the White House has resisted legislation and the President promises a fix of his own.
“You can expect a decision from him and an announcement from him sooner rather than later on options that we can take to address the problem that we’ve been discussing,” said Carney.
CBS 2 reached out to four local U.S. Senators – Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker – to ask if they would support Landrieu’s efforts.
Only Menendez responded, saying he would not support the legislation because he says it will harm the law and cause premiums to skyrocket.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is investigating a long list of issues: insufficient testing, possible security flaws, design shortcomings _ even allegations of political meddling.
But as his hearing went on, there didn’t seem to be a “smoking gun” behind the technical failure that has mortified supporters of the health care law and cheered its opponents. The technology’s cost to taxpayers: north of $600 million and climbing.
It was the sixth major congressional hearing since computerized insurance markets went live Oct. 1 and millions of consumers encountered frozen screens. The oversight committee was sharply divided along partisan lines.
“Established best practices of our government were not used in this case,” said Issa. As a result, the law’s promise of affordable health insurance “does not exist today in a meaningful way.” Like other Republicans, Issa wants the law repealed, not fixed.
Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland questioned Issa’s fairness.
Addressing Issa directly, Cummings said: “Over the past month, instead of working in a bipartisan manner to improve the website, you’ve politicized this issue by repeatedly making unfounded allegations.”
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