Documents show few health care plan enrollees

Numbers cover first two days after site launch

WASHINGTON — The Affordable Care Act health-insurance exchanges enrolled just 248 people in their first two days, as website outages and software errors hindered sign-ups, according to documents obtained by a congressional oversight committee.

Notes from three meetings at an Obama administration ‘‘war room,’’ obtained by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, show six people had enrolled on Oct. 1, the first day of the website’s operation. The summary of an Oct. 2 meeting stated that ‘‘direct enrollment is still not working’’ and about 40,000 applicants were idling in a virtual ‘‘waiting room.’’

The documents were circulated by Republican opponents of the health law who are seizing on the botched rollout even as a new poll shows more Americans than not want to expand the Affordable Care Act or keep it intact. About 7 million people, mostly those who are currently uninsured, are supposed to gain medical coverage in 2014 through exchanges created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.


‘‘We have always anticipated that the pace of enrollment will increase throughout the enrollment period,’’ Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Thursday. The notes circulated by Issa don’t reflect official enrollment statistics, she said.

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The documents were released late Thursday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee led by Issa, who has been investigating implementation of the 2010 health law.

As of Oct. 25, Peters said, 700,000 people had submitted applications for insurance under the law. About half of those were through the federal online marketplace serving 36 states. The remaining 14 US states built their own exchanges.

‘‘We are focused on providing reliable and accurate information and we do not have that at this time,’’ Peters said, because of problems in transmitting enrollment data to insurers.

The flawed debut of the federal website is tarnishing President Obama’s signature first-term legislative achievement and threatens his second-term agenda.


About 48 percent of Americans said the federal government is doing a ‘‘poor’’ job of implementing the health law, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday. Still, about 47 percent said the law should be kept or expanded, compared with 37 percent who said they want the law repealed.

Obama is trying to implement a program that received no Republican votes when it passed through Congress. House Republicans have since voted unsuccessfully more than 40 times to defund or dismantle the health law.

Obama has accused the program’s critics of misleading the public about how the exchanges work. Speaking at a rally in Boston on Oct. 30, Obama said the experience of Massachusetts with the start of that state’s independent health-care system in 2006 shows that the federal version will succeed.

Obama spoke just a few hours after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized at a House hearing for the website failures. While Sebelius declined to provide the number of sign- ups, she said initial enrollment is going to be low.

‘‘There’s no question that given our flawed launch of, it will be a very small number,’’ she told the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


She said the government would release the first month’s enrollment by mid-November.


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, led by Marilyn Tavenner, had been responsible for building and running the exchange website.

She appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee this week and, according to the White House, met with Senate leaders Thursday.

Sebelius and Tavenner are scheduled to appear before Senate committees next week for more questioning.

About 8.6 million people visited the federal website in the first week, though most were greeted by long waits that prevented many from even registering.

HHS has said that capacity is being added to the system and multiple upgrades are being made to the software code, though as of two days ago error messages were still being displayed for some users.

Jeffrey Zients, the former Office of Management and Budget official appointed by Obama on Oct. 22 to help Sebelius’s department sort out the website’s problems, has said the site will work smoothly by the end of November.

The deadline to enroll in plans that begin on Jan. 1 is Dec. 15.