The Obama administration announced Wednesday that as of early November, 106,185 people had successfully chosen health insurance plans from the new Obamacare marketplaces.
Another 975,407 successfully applied for insurance during the first month of open enrollment but as of Nov. 2, had yet to enroll in a specific plan. An additional 396,261 were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The enrollment number falls well below what the administration had expected -- officials initially anticipated that nearly 500,000 people would sign up for a private insurance plan in the first month, according to a September memo. Still, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pointed to the potential for the marketplace to grow.
"The promise of quality, affordable coverage is increasingly becoming reality for this first wave of applicants to the Health Insurance Marketplaces," Sebelius said in a statement. "There is no doubt the level of interest is strong. We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months, mirroring the pattern that Massachusetts experienced. They're also numbers that will grow as the website, HealthCare.gov, continues to make steady improvements."
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The administration has repeatedly stressed that it expected the initial enrollment figures to be low. As a basis for that, they've pointed to the opening of the Massachusetts insurance marketplace in 2006, when just 123 people signed up in the first month. The significant technical problems with HealthCare.gov -- the website that serves as a portal to the new Obamacare marketplace for 36 states -- have contributed to the low enrollment figures.
Some state-run Obamacare websites have, so far, run more smoothly than HealthCare.gov, which appeared to be reflected in the enrollment numbers: Of the 106,185 people who signed up in the first month, three quarters of them signed up through state-based programs. Only 26,794 signed up on the federal website.
Some Republicans expressed skepticism about the enrollment figures, arguing that choosing an insurance plan does not necessarily amount to enrolling in one -- Sebelius confirmed to reporters Wednesday that the enrollment figures released do not distinguish between those who've started to pay for their plans and those who've simply chosen a plan.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wrote on Twitter, "It's time to stop cooking the books. Add To Cart ? Check Out."
Sebelius pointed out that payment isn't due until Dec. 15, since coverage on the new marketplace starts in January. Furthermore, she said that these enrollment figures are consistent with the numbers that Massachusetts reported after launching its own state marketplace in 2006.
The administration has promised to have HealthCare.gov running smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of the month. Yet as the technical problems persist, members of Congress are growing increasingly concerned about people who are being dropped from their current insurance plans and may have problems enrolling in new ones. Republicans on Wednesday slammed the administration for the low enrollment figures, juxtaposing them with the millions being dropped from insurance plans that no longer meet Obamacare standards.
"More people in Michigan have had their health care plans cancelled than have enrolled nationwide," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a statement. "Given that these early enrollment numbers are inflated to include those just 'shopping' for a plan, it is clear that the real truth is even worse than we are being told."
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., called the enrollment figures "further evidence that the President's health care law is a train wreck in the making. Even more troubling are the millions who are losing health coverage they like because the President deemed those plans inadequate and failed to make good on his promise that 'if you like your plan, you can keep it.'"Congressional Democrats are meeting this week with White House officials to discuss the ongoing problems with the Affordable Care Act -- particularly the fact that millions of Americans are being dropped from their plans.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday to expect an announcement on the matter from the administration soon.
"The president has instructed his team to come up with options for him to review, and you can expect a decision from him and an announcement from him sooner rather than later," Carney said.
Carney suggested that the White House could back a bill from Senate Democrats that would let people stay on any health insurance plan they were enrolled in before 2014. "The president does want to and is discussing with lawmakers the ways we can make improvements" when it comes to this issue and other Obamacare problems, he said.
However, the White House is opposed to a similar bill that the House will vote on later this week. The House Republican bill, called the "Keep Your Health Plan Act," would allow plans that existed on the individual market as of Jan. 1, 2013 to stay in effect through 2014.
The White House opposes the GOP bill because it would allow insurers to sell 2013 plans in 2014 to anyone, not just customers who already have those plans. That, Carney told reporters Tuesday, "creates all sorts of problems for insurers trying to meet the basic standards" set by the Affordable Care Act, undermining the whole law.
At Wednesday's House Democratic caucus meeting, lawmakers heard an explanation of the White House's opposition from Mike Hash, who directs the Office of health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, and David Simas, the White House's deputy senior advisor for communications and strategy.
House Democrats made clear in Wednesday's meeting that they are frustrated -- one senior Democratic aide characterized the lawmakers in the meeting as "feisty." Earlier this week, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the No. 2 Democrat in the House, left open the door for Democrats to support the Republican bill.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, plan on meeting with White House officials about the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Wednesday.