President Obama: 1 Million People Have Signed Up for Obamacare

WASHINGTON—His health care plan facing a dicey transition, President Barack Obama said Friday that insurance sign-ups are surging now that the government’s website is working better for consumers. But it was too soon to say the rollout has turned the corner.

More than 1 million people have enrolled since Oct. 1, Obama said at his end-of-the-year press conference. That’s more than two-and-a-half times the number on Nov. 30, when major fixes to the website were completed. At that point, only 365,000 had signed up through new federal and state markets offering subsidized private insurance.

“That is a big deal,” Obama said of getting coverage for uninsured people. “That’s why I ran for this office.”

Separately, officials said 3.9 million people have qualified for government health care through the law’s Medicaid expansion. Even so, things aren’t exactly humming along. was down for part of the day Friday, as technicians attempted to fix an error that occurred Thursday night when the site was undergoing routine maintenance, officials explained.

The administration cannot afford for the balky website to crash this weekend. Because of Monday’s deadline to sign up so coverage can take effect Jan. 1, unusually heavy traffic is expected on the federal site and those run by states.

Largely hidden from consumers, another set of technical problems is frustrating insurers, who say the government continues to send them inaccurate data on some enrolled individuals. Insurers call some of those jumbled enrollment files “orphans” and others “ghosts.”

They could turn into gremlins after Jan. 1 for some patients trying to use their new coverage. Consumers might show up at the pharmacy counter or doctor’s office only to be told they’re not in the system.

That’s not the only potential issue. Administration officials are scrambling to prevent breaks in coverage among more than 4 million people whose individual policies were cancelled this fall because they did not meet the law’s requirements. An estimated 500,000 have yet to secure new coverage. On Thursday, the administration said those individuals would not be penalized for remaining uninsured, and that they could also have access to special bare-bones catastrophic insurance plans.

The president minimized the significance of that accommodation Friday, calling it a net to catch a small number of people who may slip through the cracks.

Still tinkering with the website, the administration now faces crucial deadlines within a two-week stretch.

The last day to sign up for coverage to take effect with the new year is Monday. And Jan. 1 is the day the people can start using their new policies. Starting then, the law forbids insurers from turning away people with pre-existing medical conditions. The law’s mandate that virtually all Americans carry coverage also goes into place, although uninsured people can avoid a tax penalty if they pick a plan by Mar. 31.

The stakes are much higher now than Oct. 1, when went live. It’s not just that the president’s political reputation has been tarnished by website woes and insurance cancellations.

The risk now is that ordinary people with pressing medical needs will suffer harm if the transition to coverage is fumbled. If that happens, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will face a new round of demands for her resignation.

“Implementing the website is the relatively easy part,” said Mark McClellan, who oversaw the problematic rollout of the Medicare prescription drug benefit for President George W. Bush. “Implementing the coverage itself involves a lot more things that could go wrong, and there’s a lot more at stake.

“It was possible for people to wait a month or two to use the website,” McClellan added. “People who need care on Jan. 1 are not going to be able to wait a month or two to get it.” McClellan is now a health policy expert with the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank.

Obama was feeling optimistic Friday. In first three weeks of December, more than 500,000 people signed up through the federal website, he noted. On Oct. 1, only a handful managed to enroll successfully.

Crossing the 1 million mark was a milestone, but the administration’s own estimates called for 3.3 million to enroll by Dec. 31. The target now is 7 million by the end of open enrollment on Mar. 31.

In Florida on Friday, Lisa Hulsey wasn’t feeling very confident. She had waited nearly an hour to sign up for health insurance with a counselor because the website was down. The couple before Hulsey zipped through in less than an hour and chose a midrange silver plan.

Hulsey, a paralegal, had employer insurance at no cost to her. But her company is no longer offering coverage, instead pushing employees into the federal marketplace where they may qualify for subsidies.

“I’m hungry. I’m frustrated. It should work,” said Hulsey. She was leaving this weekend to visit her family in Alabama and did not know when she would have time to try again before Monday’s deadline.

  • bastalready

    The Gop will not like this.

    • doctorwang

      The GOP doesn’t like anything that ends up reflecting positively on the Obama administration. But I’m sure (at least for now) they’re too busy defending their new hero- Papa Duck Commando Guy- to notice this milestone.

      • bastalready

        I know… eeesh.

      • Pony

        The ACA is a halfbaked scheme between a single payer and private insurance. Now someone explain why with control of the house snd senate he didn’t brass plate his cohonies and go for a real overhaul instead of selling us into the waiting arms of FOR PROFIT INSURANCE PROVIDORS. Oh yes indeed I would have went kicing and screaming yelling and flailing muttering about socialism under my breath. But it would have been a workable system if implemented in stages. What passed is a pile of poo pie thats going to be one of those reno projects that go on forever.

  • MFEO

    My 67-year-old uncle suffered from a heart attack last year which required an operation. He has medical insurance fortunately. After the operation, he told me that if he was under Obama’s healthcare act, he would have died. If you’re an elder, the decision to operate on you will be placed in the hands of others (not doctors). Those individuals factor in the risk of operating on you, taking into consideration your age and likelihood of surviving the operation. If you’re old and even though you have a good chance of surviving the operation, the odds of approving your operation is slim.

    • bastalready

      He’s on medicare, no?

      • tense641

        I don’t believe MFEO if he does have an uncle 67 y/o of course he has Medicare Part A, Parts B and D.

        • bastalready

          I know. ; )

    • doctorwang

      “if he was under Obama’s healthcare act, he would have died.”

      Really? And what were the specific reasons he gave that had brought him to that conclusion? And please don’t tell me he heard it on FOX…

    • ibwilliamsi

      My uncle’s 104 year old mother’s sister had an infected toe. She has health insurance from her job pulling freight for long haul trucks. My uncle’s mother’s sister’s husband’s daughter told me that my uncle’s 104 year old mother’s sister would have died under Obama’s healthcare act.

      Given the veracity of our stories, it must be true.

    • abxnomore

      If one is elderly or over 65 you are entitled to Medicare. Where do you get your information from??? Medicare works just fine.

    • abxnomore

      I’m sorry your brain surgery didn’t go well but that was pre-Obamacare.

    • Canukistani

      “If you’re an elder, the decision to operate on you will be placed in the hands of others (not doctors).”

      Your uncle may have been mistaken.

      I would have thought that at that age he would have medicare, but I’m not all that familiar with the way you do things in the US. If I need medical attention I get it. The year before last my elderly mother was in the hospital for 4 months. Total cost to me was about $150.00 Canukistani rubles for the ambulance ride (uhh, that’s Canadian dollars to you – probably about $130 or so of yours). The waiting list may be a problem, but that’s not always the case and wasn’t in hers, contrary to what you may have heard.

      That aside, if I’m mistaken about medicare, in the good old days those decisions were either made by his insurance company who had a vested interest in saving money or his family who might have to mortgage the house and/or spend years tryng to pay the bills.

      They weren’t made by doctors, although they may have had some input – I hope so. This is what you find more appealing? In that case, abxnomore (below this comment) is correct. The brain surgery did not go as you’d hoped and you have my sympathy as well.

  • abxnomore

    Well this is no surprise at all. Millions were waiting and are now happy to have to finally have chance at obtaining medical insurance. Sorry, republicans and cons but despite the problems with the website and the GOP scare tactics, people are still eager to sign up for Obamacare even in Kentucky!