Almost 500,000 Americans have submitted applications for health insurance through the online exchanges being run by the federal government and 14 states, according to an Obama administration official.
Consumer use of healthcare.gov has been stymied by technical glitches since it went live Oct. 1. The site is the government’s online portal for people looking for new health plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which seeks to insure as many as 7 million people by March. Workers and contractors at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have been working to fix it.
About 8.6 million people visited the federal website in the first week, running into software problems and long waits that prevented them, in many cases, from even registered to check out insurance offerings. At one point, the site posted error messages in at least 24 states. Meanwhile, independent, state- run exchange websites have seen far fewer problems.
“We are seeing progress” with the federal exchange, said Joanne Peters, an HHS spokeswoman, in an Oct. 18 e-mail. “Wait times to begin the online process have been virtually eliminated, and more consumers are creating accounts, completing applications and ultimately enrolling in coverage.”
The administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, didn’t provide a breakdown between the federal site and the exchanges run independently by 14 states. The government has said it will release enrollment figures from healthcare.gov monthly, starting in mid-November.
Federal officials have declined to publicly discuss the problems with healthcare.gov or to outline plans to fix it in detail, drawing criticism from Republican opponents in Congress.
While the federal exchange has struggled, more than 300,000 people have been able to either start or complete an application for insurance on the 14 independent, state-run exchanges, according to a tally of figures released by the states and Washington, D.C.
In Washington state, where the site has had few issues since the first day, 37,000 have completed applications to determine their eligibility for insurance and about 25,000 of those have enrolled in a private insurance plan or Medicaid program, the state said Oct. 14. On Kentucky’s exchange, there were 20,337 applications and 9,453 people who completed enrollment in a plan as of Oct. 10, the state said.
Not all states have released the number of people who have gone from completing an application to actually signing up and paying for insurance. A few states, such as New York, have struggled with delays similar to those seen on healthcare.gov
New York, which has said its technical issues are now largely solved, said 124,000 people completed the full application process as of Oct. 16 and were determined eligible to purchase a health insurance plan on the exchange. The state hasn’t said how many of those people have taken the final step of purchasing a plan.
One state that has had the biggest struggle is Hawaii, which was two weeks behind schedule in launching a fully functional site. While people were able to log on, create an account and start the application process Oct. 1, it wasn’t until Oct. 15 that they were able to actually shop for a plan and compare prices. Hawaii’s exchange is being run by the same company, CGI Group Inc., which is in charge of the federal site.
Oregon said in August that its site wouldn’t be ready until at least mid-October though it has already started enrolling people by phone and mail who are newly eligible under the law for Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor.
In the first two weeks, 56,000 people signed up for Oregon’s Medicaid program, cutting the number of uninsured there by 10 percent, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
–Editors: Reg Gale, Romaine Bostick