Obama health target: 500,000 sign-ups by Oct. 31
WASHINGTON - For the first month alone, the Obama administration projected nearly half a million people would sign up for the new health insurance markets, according to an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press. That was before the cascade of computer problems.
If the glitches persist and consumers give up trying, that initial goal, described as modest in the memo, could slip out of reach.
The Sept. 5 memo, for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, lists monthly enrollment targets for each state and Washington, D.C., through March 31, the last day of the initial open-enrollment period under President Obama's health-care overhaul.
The online insurance markets are supposed to be the portals to coverage for most of the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured. Middle-class people without job-based coverage can shop for subsidized private plans, while low-income people are steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that program.
Although the Oct. 1 launch of the markets was a top priority for the White House, the rollout was quickly overwhelmed by computer problems, and many potential customers still have not been able to enroll. Insurers say sign-ups are coming through, but slowly.
A surge of interest by consumers online appeared to trigger the problems, which also seem to involve underlying software flaws and design shortcomings undetected or overlooked in testing. The administration is holding the explanation close, while working feverishly to fix the glitches - with incomplete results so far.
In the memo, a big jump is expected after Thanksgiving, since Dec. 15 is the last day people can sign up so their coverage will take effect Jan. 1. Starting in the new year, the law requires virtually all Americans to have insurance or face fines.
With 15 days to go this month, the Obama administration has not released any enrollment numbers for the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead in running the markets, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The 14 states running their own markets, along with Washington, D.C., have released some data. But it's hard to discern a clear pattern.
Kentucky reported 18,351 applications processed as of Oct. 9. That would exceed the memo's projection of 15,400 for the month.
Maryland reported 566 applications processed as of Oct. 6, compared with 10,500 projected for the month.
White House targets for health-care marketplaces by the end of the first month and by the end of the enrollment period:
State 10/31/13 3/31/14
Delaware 560 8,000
New Jersey 6,720 96,000
Pennsylvania 14,420 206,000
U.S. 494,620 7,066,000
SOURCE: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services