December 12, 2013

Health care sign-ups gaining steam, but still behind

By Laurie Kellman And Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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President Barack Obamaís fickle health insurance website is finally starting to put up some respectable signup numbers, but its job only seems to have gotten harder. Two months in and out of the repair shop have left significantly less time to fulfill the White House goal of enrolling 7 million people for 2014 by the end of open enrollment March 31.

The Associated Press

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California, which is running its own program, led the nation, with 107,087 sign-ups. New York, also running its own market, had 45,513.

Among states with federally run markets, Florida was the leader with 17,908 sign-ups. Texas, which has a bigger share of its population uninsured than any other state, had 14,038.

Nationally, an additional 803,077 people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid, the safety-net program shaping up as the health overhaul's early success story. That's about double the number for October. Nonetheless, state Medicaid directors are reporting accuracy problems with information on prospective enrollees that the federal government is sending them.

Obama's law uses a two-track approach to expand coverage for the uninsured. Middle-class people who don't have access to job-based insurance can buy government-subsidized private plans. Low-income people are steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states accepting it, though not all do. The website is supposed to be the portal to both kinds of coverage.

The administration had spent $677 million on website technology through the end of October, aiming for smoother operations, but with results still well short of perfection.

Republicans have called for Sebelius to resign and some Democrats have urged Obama to fire those responsible for problems, but the White House has given no indication of a house-cleaning. Sebelius' request for an inspector general probe is a sign that there is more explaining to be done.

She seemed to be pointing a finger at the Medicare agency, which is part of her department and oversees Obama's coverage expansion.

In addition to the inspector general review, Sebelius said she has ordered the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to hire a new "chief risk officer" to make sure technology programs work as advertised. Like other major federal operations, the Medicare agency already has several senior tech executives.

HealthCare.gov went live Oct. 1, and consumers immediately got bogged down. A two-month program of fixes directed by White House troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients made the site more workable, resolving hundreds of software glitches and adding computer equipment to handle peak demand.

Zients also concluded that the technical problems were compounded by inadequate oversight and coordination.

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