Sebelius' Obamacare plea: Don’t give up on us

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks about the Affordable Care Act during her visit to Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS) November 15, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Joshua Lott, Getty Images

As more Obamacare enrollees start to visit HealthCare.gov, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a piece of advice for them: be patient.

“To those Americans who have experienced difficulties online: Please do not give up,” Sebelius wrote in a USA Today op-ed published Sunday night.

Sebelius reiterated the administration’s claim that the “user experience” on HealthCare.gov, which serves as a portal to the new Obamacare marketplaces for 36 states, is dramatically better than it was when the site launched on Oct. 1. Still, she acknowledged the problems users may still face on the site, urging them to consider visiting it at off-peak hours and reiterating that help is available offline.

On Monday afternoon, the administration touted the continued interest in Obamacare, announcing that before Noon, there were already 375,000 visits to HealthCare.gov that day. 

Meanwhile, there is evidence that more people are using the site successfully -- about 100,000 people chose a private health insurance plan on HealthCare.gov in the month of November, an administration official told CBS News, confirming Bloomberg's report. The final figures are still being calculated, and the administration plans on releasing those in mid-December. In October, when HealthCare.gov was suffering from significant problems, just about 26,000 people enrolled via the federal website.  

States that are running their own Obamacare websites are making progress as well -- for instance, more than 71,000 Coloradans have reportedly created accounts on the state’s marketplace website.

Still, the administration has a long way to go before the new marketplaces meet expectations -- as many as seven million were predicted to be signed up by the end of the six-month open enrollment period.

Now that the “user experience” on HealthCare.gov is improved, the administration and its supporters can turn some of their attention to recruiting more enrollees. On Wednesday, the White House will kick off a month of public education events about the Affordable Care Act with a Youth Summit, designed to encourage young adults to enroll, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Enroll America reportedly plans to launch its "Coverage is Coming" campaign this month. The campaign will consist of more than 1,000 events, including a commemoration of World AIDS Day, community health summits and holiday toy drives.

While the “user experience” may be better, the administration still has significant work to do on the back end of HealthCare.gov. Health insurers have reported that the federal site is sending them incomplete or incorrect information for some enrollees, while they have no records of other enrollees at all. Meanwhile, Obama administration officials acknowledged last month that it still has to build elements of the website, such as financial management systems to transfer tax credits to insurers. The administration said those systems are not essential until 2014.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is having daily conversations with insurance companies to get feedback on the problem. Additionally, he said the agency is reaching out to consumers to make sure they’ve taken all the necessary steps to enroll in plans. Carney said the administration has made "significant" fixes to the elements of the site that transfer enrollee information to insurers.

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