WASHINGTON - Playing catch-up with a long way to go, President Barack Obama's new health insurance markets last month picked up the dismal pace of signups, the administration reported Wednesday.
Enrollment statistics from the Health and Human Services Department showed that 364,682 people have signed up for private coverage as of Nov. 30 under the federal health law. Although that's more than three times the October total, it's less than one-third of the 1.2 million people officials had originally projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November.
Crunch time is now for Obama's health care law, as consumers face a Dec. 23 enrollment deadline if they want to have coverage on Jan. 1. Yet HealthCare.gov, the revamped federal website serving 36 states, continues to have issues. Just Tuesday there was an extended maintenance outage. And some states running their own websites are also having problems.
That's created stress and uncertainty not only for the uninsured but also for consumers seeking to avoid an interruption in coverage in January. Those trying to preserve coverage include some or many of the more than 4 million people whose individual plans were canceled because they didn't measure up under the law, as well as hundreds of thousands in federal and state programs for people with serious health problems, from cancer to heart disease to AIDS.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the House Energy and Commerce on Wednesday that the signup trend is turning positive.
"I don't think there is any question that the flawed launch of the website put a damper on people's enthusiasm," Sebelius said. "Having said that, we are seeing very, very positive trends. We are seeing lots of people re-engage."
Another 1.9 million people have made it through the enrollment process, but have not yet picked a plan, she said. Consumers must pay their premiums by Dec. 31 for coverage to take effect at the beginning of the year.
Lawmakers have questions about how and why HealthCare.gov did not work as advertised, whether the federal website meets government security standards and how much all the repairs are costing.
In a blog post early Wednesday, Sebelius said that she has asked the department's inspector general to investigate how HealthCare.gov went off track. She wants an independent review of the contracting process, management, performance and payment issues that may have contributed to the flawed launch.
The administration report found a total of 137,204 people enrolled in the states served by the federal website by the end of November, up from 26,794 in October.
The 14 states running their own websites enrolled 227,478 people, up from 79,391 in October.