Only Six People Could Enroll in Health Care Exchanges on Day One

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 1 2013 12:51 PM

Only Six People Could Enroll in Health Care Exchanges on Day One

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"Six" wouldn't have been a very fun answer for Jay Carney to give.

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The ongoing House investigation of the Obamacare rollout, which should last until January 2017 or so*, has produced its first glistening diamonds. "War room" memos from the first days of the launch reveal that everything was going poorly, and people knew it.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

From day one's first meeting: "6 enrollments have occurred so far with 5 different issuers."

From the second meeting: "100 enrollments have enrolled as of this meeting."

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From the third meeting, on day two: "As of yesterday, there were 248 enrollments."

If you go back to reporting at the time, basically nobody was asking about this in a way that could be answered in public. (Lots of people were asking and getting nothing from lower-level representatives for Health and Human Services.) On Oct. 2, for example, Major Garrett asked Jay Carney for an evaulation of "the consumer experience on the websites." Carney offered that he couldn't "guarantee that there aren’t glitches that are just technical in nature." Yawn.

On Oct. 3, a reporter asked Carney for numbers. "Isn’t enrollees really the better metric for gauging as to how well that is doing? And do we have any of those numbers yet?"

"No, we don't have that data," said Carney. "And we’re not—we’re focused on improving the consumer experience, making sure that the American people have the information they need through healthcare.gov and through the toll-free number to begin to make assessments about what kind of insurance they’d like."

On Oct. 4, no reporter asked about the website.

On Oct. 7, Carney explained why the administration would not share enrollment numbers.

When it comes to enrollment data—I want to clear this up—we will release data on regular monthly intervals, just like was done in Massachusetts and just like what was done and is done when it comes to Medicare Part D.  What I can confirm right now is that people are signing up through federal exchanges.  But we’re not going to be—this is an aggregation process and we’re not going to release data on an hourly or daily or weekly basis.  We’ll follow models that have existed in previous programs, including a similar program in Massachusetts, including Medicare Part D, which is the most recent federal example of this kind of thing, and release enrollment data on regular monthly intervals.

So, the administration did have numbers. (At other times, it's claimed ignorance of the totals so far.) It knew they were paltry. The shutdown served as a great big bouncing ball of distraction. Republicans can make some hay now of how completely broken the system was in week one, but the administration gets the benefit of having to explain itself now that the system is less completely broken.

*Referring to the investigation. The rollout will last longer.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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