Enrollment into health insurance plans offered through the new federal website is well below Obama administration expectations, according to news reports, following a failed rollout on Oct. 1.
Administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, declined to enumerate how many people have successfully enrolled during recent appearances before Congress, but the target for October had been 500,000, according to memos made public by a Republican congressman last week.
But fewer than 50,000 people have successfully signed up, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing two sources who have seen the government data.
"We have always anticipated that initial enrollment numbers would be low and increase over time, just as was the experience in Massachusetts, where only 0.3 percent, or 123 people paying premiums, enrolled in the first month," said Erin Shields Britt, an HHS spokeswoman Monday. "And, as we have said, the problems with the website will cause the numbers to be lower than initially anticipated."
The federal health law was based on a similar version rolled out in Massachusetts. It requires Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a fine by the end of March, but also allows for expanded public coverage through Medicaid for those who qualify and tax subsidies for others shopping in public marketplaces known as exchanges. States were permitted to create their own exchanges or join the federal exchange. Several states, such as Kentucky and Oregon, have had much better success with their website rollouts, but 36 states and the District of Columbia are participating in the federal exchange.
While even President Barack Obama has spent time doing events across the country to defend the law and increasingly plead for patience with its execution, Republicans are hoping to use the bad news to further their long-held goal to weaken the law.
Obama was also called to account for claiming Americans with insurance would all be able to keep that coverage in the face of the new health law, which has not been the case. Insurance companies, though legally able to maintain the plans they offered that didn't meet the Affordable Care Act's minimum standards, began dropping that coverage.
""I am sorry that they … are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," Obama said in an interview with NBC. "We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."
The administration has said it will publicly release enrollment numbers in mid-November and despite furor over the lower-than-expected sign-ups so far, it has long been expected most Americans who need coverage will stall until the end of the enrollment period.