HealthCare.gov enrollments just 27,000 in first month

More than 1 million people have applied for health insurance, but most have not yet selected a plan, HHS says

More than 106,000 U.S. residents have selected health insurance plans, but less than 27,000 did so through the flawed HealthCare.gov, during the first month of enrollment through the U.S. government's Affordable Care Act.

About 79,000 of the 106,000 enrollments in health insurance plans came through insurance marketplaces run by 15 states, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HealthCare.gov, the malfunctioning website launched Oct. 1, allows residents of other states to enroll in new health coverage.

"Even with the issues we've had, the [insurance] marketplace is working, and people are enrolling," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday.

The HHS numbers don't break out enrollee numbers for HealthCare.gov and other enrollment options, including telephone and in-person applications. About 90 percent of the enrollment traffic is coming through HealthCare.gov or state-run insurance websites.

Officials in President Barack Obama's administration have been saying they expected low enrollment numbers in the first weeks after enrollments began, based on the experience of Massachusetts, which has a similar health insurance program. HHS officials expect more enrollments as a tech team fixes HealthCare.gov, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Users of HealthCare.gov have encountered a slow or nonfunctional website during the first month. "There's no doubt that particularly the early experience with HealthCare.gov was enormously frustrating," Sebelius said during a press conference. "It is getting better every day."

With an estimated 47 million U.S. residents without health insurance, the number of enrollees so far represents a small fraction of those eligible for health insurance under the so-called Obamacare law passed in 2010. Residents who want health insurance to start Jan. 1 must sign up by Dec. 15, but open enrollment in the new plans extends into March.

HHS is "confident" more U.S. residents will enroll in health insurance plans in the coming months, Sebelius said.

In addition to the 106,000 enrollees, another 975,000 U.S. residents have applied for insurance and met eligibility requirements, but have not yet selected coverage, HHS said Wednesday. The agency has found another 396,000 people eligible for two other insurance programs, Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program.

An estimated 26.8 million people have visited HealthCare.gov or the state marketplace websites since the insurance shopping program launched Oct. 1, HHS said. An additional 3.2 million people have called state or federal call centers. Wednesday's report includes numbers from Oct. 1 to Nov. 2.

HHS is confident it will meet its goal of having HealthCare.gov working smoothly for the majority of users by the end of the month, Bataille said.

Enrollment numbers vary wildly across the U.S. In California, more than 105,000 people have completed applications and 35,000 have selected health plans, HHS said. In North Dakota, less than 1,000 people have applied for insurance coverage and just 42 have selected plans.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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