Since the state and federal health exchange marketplaces went live on October 1, 2013, approximately 106,185 people have either selected health plans or fully signed up and paid for coverage through these markets. The first official reporting of these numbers from the Administration comes after weeks of congressional and public frustration and scrutiny over significant problems with the federal enrollment website, HealthCare.gov. Original goals for enrollment extended into the millions by spring 2014, but in the weeks leading up to today’s announcement, the Administration sought to significantly lower expectations while promising to fix the enrollment website and help people obtain coverage.
The announcement came on the heels of a politically contentious four and a half hour hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on challenges with the HealthCare.gov website. During the hearing, White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park testified before the committee and could not commit to the Administration having the website problems fixed by November 30, a promise other top Administration officials have been making since Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before Congress last month.
Enrollment levels within the exchanges are significant because low enrollment means that next year’s premiums will be higher, as costs are spread across a much smaller pool of individuals and individuals who have enrolled are more likely to be high utilizers of health care services. Unless enrollment significantly increases by the March 31st deadline for open enrollment, one of the hallmark issues of the Obama Administration may fail to reach its goal of providing affordable health care to millions of uninsured Americans.