The White House has released its second monthly report card on Obamacare enrollment in state and federal exchanges, documenting a mix of progress and problems in the system since it launched in October.
The numbers offer some good news: a surge in sign-ups in November after a barrage of improvements to HealthCare.gov, and robust online traffic to the insurance portals shows that interest in the products remains strong.
But the figures also illustrate some serious problems ahead: there's a huge backlog of consumers who have applied for a plan but not yet picked one, and electronic errors on the computer system's backend may have left tens of thousands of enrollments in limbo.
The data snapshot covering the period Oct. 1 through Nov. 30 comes less than two weeks before the critical sign-up deadline for Americans who want coverage that's effective Jan. 1, and as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gets her first grilling on Capitol Hill since the website's overhaul.
Here are seven headlines from the report:
ENROLLMENTS PICKING UP PACE, BUT STILL LAGGING: Nearly 365,000 Americans selected a health plan through a state or federal insurance marketplace in the first two months since they launched, according to HHS. October saw 106,000 sign-ups; November more than doubled that with 259,000 sign-ups.
FEDERAL EXCHANGE (IN 36 STATES): As we've previously reported, 111,0000 signed up through the federal HealthCare.gov in November. That's a four-fold increase from October, when just 26,000 signed up due to the technical glitches. ABC News has also confirmed 29,000 sign-ups in the federal exchange on the first two days of December alone. All told, more than 166,000 people have signed up through the federal exchange.
STATE EXCHANGES (IN 14 STATES PLUS DC): The states running their own exchanges continue to outpace the feds. Roughly 227,000 Americans selected health plans through a state exchange through Nov. 30. October saw 79,000 sign-ups in the states; November had 148,000, per HHS.
WILL OBAMACARE MEET ITS 7 MILLION SIGN-UPS TARGET? The Obama administration had projected, based on CBO, enrolling 7 million Americans through state and federal exchanges (excluding Medicaid) by March 31, 2014. The total of 365,000 through Nov. 30 is obviously a small fraction of that. Still, HHS officials insist they are "on track" to hit the target.
"We're now only two and a half months into a six-month open enrollment period, and based on the experience of that in Massachusetts, we expect that a bulk of enrollees will occur at the end of the open enrollment period," said Michael Hash, director of the office of health reform at HHS.
NEARLY 2 MILLION AMERICANS HAVE APPLIED, BUT NOT LOCKED IN A PLAN: More than 1.9 million Americans since Oct. 1 have filled out an application online, over the phone or in person, been deemed eligible for a plan, but not yet picked one, according to HHS. This "backlog" of consumers reflects a number of different scenarios: some people simply haven't decided and are making the decisions with their families; many have been snagged by technical glitches, identity verification problems, etc., and are stuck. Officials say their primary focus is getting these people through the process ASAP before focusing on summoning new people to the sites. HHS has more than 25,000 trained, paid assisters around the country to facilitate this.
'TOP PRIORITY' - FIXING ERRONEOUS ENROLLMENTS: The figures released today show that as many as 35,000 Americans who think they successfully enrolled in a plan may actually be in limbo with their insurer due to errors on the federal website's backend (specifically with the 834 forms). With the Dec. 23 deadline approaching, reconciling these errors is "the top priority" right now for HHS, officials say. "We are actively doing this work now, very intensely, very methodically, and are committed to making sure that consumers who have enrolled have done so successfully and will access the coverage they've selected," said CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille. Last week, HHS revealed that one in four people who completed the process in October and November had errors in their enrollments.
SITE TRAFFIC: The administration says there have been more than 39 million unique visitors to state and federal exchanges since they launched Oct. 1. More than 28 million came to HealthCare.gov alone. Between 12:01 a.m. Monday, Dec. 9, through 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, HealthCare.gov alone saw more than 800,000 visitors per HHS. (Note: This does not mean all these people are shopping for - or even eligible for - marketplace insurance. Many could simply be curious surfers, from anywhere in the world. The White House says the number reflects strong interest in the program.)
MEDICAID EXPANSION: The federal and state marketplaces determined or assessed more than 803,000 Americans eligible for Medicaid or CHIP in their states through Nov. 30. The marketplaces then direct those consumers to their respective state agencies to actually enroll.
BOTTOM LINE NUMBER: With the goal of the Affordable Care Act being extension of insurance coverage to currently uninsured Americans, the White House is touting overall progress since October as: 1.2 million people either selecting an individual plan in the marketplace OR being deemed eligible for Medicaid/CHIP.