Obamacare makes progress but remains a GOP target

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Enrollment on HealthCare.gov -- the federal Obamacare website serving 36 states -- was four times greater in November than it was in October, according to the Obama administration, marking the significant progress the site has made since its botched rollout on Oct. 1. In spite of the progress, Obamacare enrollment remains behind projections the administration made earlier this year, leaving the Affordable Care Act an open target for Republicans heading into the midterm election year.

By the end of November, nearly 365,000 individuals had selected plans from HealthCare.gov or a state-based Obamacare website, the Health and Human Services Department reported Tuesday evening. Enrollment on HealthCare.gov in November was four times greater than it was in October, when just 26,794 signed up for plans on the site.

An additional 1.9 million people have since October 1 applied for insurance via Obamacare and have been deemed eligible, but they have yet to select a plan. Meanwhile, since Oct. 1, another 803,077 have been determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Officials initially anticipated that nearly 500,000 people would sign up for a private insurance plan in the first month of open enrollment, according to a September memo, but the significant technical problems with HealthCare.gov and some state-based Obamacare sites slowed the process down.

In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said evidence of the technical improvements to HealthCare.gov can be seen in the enrollment numbers.

"More and more Americans are finding that quality, affordable coverage is within reach and that they'll no longer need to worry about barriers they may have faced in the past - like being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition," she said, noting that while the open enrollment period lasts through March, consumers have until Dec. 23 to sign up for coverage starting in January.

While the administration is only just beginning its efforts to sell Obamacare to the public, Republicans are continuing their full-throated political assault on the health law. Sebelius will come under the GOP's scrutiny on Wednesday, in a hearing hosted by a subpanel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee entitled, "Implementation Failures: What's Next?"

Sebelius is sure to be questioned about documents -- released after the last time Sebelius appeared before the committee -- showing that her agency warned as far back as April about HealthCare.gov's vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the House GOP's campaign arm, launched radio ads on Tuesday against a group of House Democrats -- Reps. Scott Peters, D-Calif.; Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.; and Nick Rahall, D-W.V. -- using their support for Obamacare against them. The ads specifically attack the Democrats for President Obama's broken promise that anyone who likes their existing health insurance can keep it.

A new CBS News poll released Tuesday night, shows that views about the health care law have recovered slightly from last month's lows but are still dim.

In mid-November, a CBS News poll showed that just 31 percent of Americans approved of the law -- the lowest approval rating recorded in CBS News polls. Tuesday's poll shows that now 39 percent approve, though 50 percent disapprove. And while 58 percent don't think the sign-up for the new health care marketplaces is going well, more than a third - 36 percent -- think it is improving.

President Obama's approval rating on health care has also increased since last month to 41 percent, but 55 percent still disapproves. Half the country disapproves of his overall job performance. As he attempts to regain his footing, Mr. Obama is soliciting more outside help -- John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, is returning to the White House to advise the president.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., retorted Tuesday that "it's not surprising they want to shake up the team." However, he said, "In my view it's going to take a lot more than shaking up the team to sell Obamacare to the American people... The problem here is the substance of his number one issue -- the issue that he wanted to be most associated with is a failure and no amount of shifting the chairs around on the Titanic is going to solve that problem."

Democrats argue that voters don't want to scrap the entire health law but improve it. And while the administration works on improving HealthCare.gov, it's also pushing more states to expand Medicaid.

Currently, Medicaid exists as a joint federal-state program that provides health care to certain poor Americans, such as children and the elderly. Under Obamacare, states have the choice to expand Medicaid so that it's available to anyone with an income under 138 percent of the federal poverty line. So far, 25 states and the District of Columbia have decided to expand, but the remaining 25 states can decide to do so at any time in the future.

White House officials on Monday joined two top North Carolina Democrats on a conference call, urging Republican leaders in the state to reconsider their opposition to the expansion.

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