The Early Obamacare Numbers Are As Dismal As You'd Expect

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 12 2013 10:17 AM

The Early Obamacare Numbers Are About As Dismal As You'd Expect

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius answers questions about the error-plagued launch of Healthcare.gov while testifying before the Senate Finance Committee on November 6, 2013 in Washington, DC

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Obama administration is set later this week to unveil its first official tally of just how many people have chosen coverage using the troubled Obamacare website healthcare.gov, but unnamed officials have already given a sneak peak to the Wall Street Journal and a few others. The early numbers are far from stellar:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Fewer than 50,000 people had successfully navigated the troubled federal health-care website and enrolled in private insurance plans as of last week, two people familiar with the matter said, citing internal government data.
The figure is a fraction of the Obama administration's target of 500,000 enrollees for October. The early tally for the HealthCare.gov site, which launched Oct. 1, worries health insurers that are counting on higher enrollment to make their plans profitable.
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The Washington Post reports a similar figure ("roughly 40,000") but notes the administration appears to be giving itself the benefit of the doubt in counting to that number. Turns out, according to one of the paper's sources, that figure includes both people who have paid for a health plan and those who simply have picked a plan on the website and left it in their online shopping cart.

HHS declined to discuss the reports specifically, but the agency has maintained that it expects the largest number of sign-ups to happen later in the window—in part because of the still-ongoing tech nightmare that is healthcare.gov, and in part because of what they saw when Massachusetts overhauled its state healthcare law back in 2007. Still, it's pretty clear the White House would prefer to put the points on the board as quickly as possible to put their allies at ease.

The open-enrollment period is set to close at the end of March, at which point the administration hopes that at least seven million Americans nationwide will have gained private coverage. The not-yet-official 40-50K estimate actually marks a pretty drastic improvement from the website's first days. Of course, the bar was set about as low as it could be: Only six people signed up for coverage on the first day the site was open. By Day 3 that figure had climbed to 248 people.

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This post has been updated.

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