The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

October 16, 2013

Obama health target: 500,000 signups by Oct. 31

Computer glitches may prevent from reaching goal

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first month alone, the Obama administration projected that nearly a half million people would sign up for the new health insurance markets, according to an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press. But that was before the markets opened to a cascade of computer problems.

If the glitches persist and frustrated consumers give up trying, that initial goal, described as modest in the memo, could slip out of reach.

The Sept. 5 memo, for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, lists monthly enrollment targets for each state and Washington, D.C., through Mar. 31, 2014, the last day of the initial open enrollment period under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

The new online insurance markets, called exchanges in some states, are supposed to be the portals to coverage for most of the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured people. Middle-class people without job-based coverage can shop for subsidized private plans, while low-income people are steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that safety net program.

Although the Oct. 1 launch of the markets was a top priority for the White House, the rollout was quickly overwhelmed by computer problems, and many potential customers still have not been able to enroll. Insurers say signups are coming through, but slowly.

A surge of interest by consumers going online appeared to trigger the problems, which also seem to involve underlying software flaws and design shortcomings undetected or overlooked in testing. The administration is holding the explanation close, while working feverishly to fix the glitches — with incomplete results so far.

In the memo, officials estimated that 494,620 people would sign up for health insurance under the program by Oct. 31. And that was portrayed as a slow start.

"We expect enrollment in the initial months to be low," said the memo, entitled "Projected Monthly Enrollment Targets for Health Insurance Marketplaces in 2014."

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