WASHINGTON — The initial phase of the rollout of President Obama’s healthcare law in Colorado has been a story of two extremes. Few Coloradans have signed up for private health insurance; many have signed up for an expansion of Medicaid.
Two-hundred-twenty six people signed up to buy health insurance through the program in its first week, according to officials with Connect for Health Colorado, the non-profit organization that runs the state exchange. The number of uninsured people who would receive coverage is 305.
While a spokesman on behalf of Connect for Health Colorado said the state plans to enroll 136,000 Coloradans by the end of 2014, the state needs to increase its numbers dramatically to reach that figure. The number of insured each week would need to grow sevenfold each week to 2,120 from 305.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) said the rollout of Obamacare has been a “disaster.” He noted the state and federal government have spent $21 million to promote the law to the non-elderly uninsured.
“I mean, my gosh, they have tried to sign up people in their underwear. They run ads during Broncos games. And they managed to get 200 people. This is a big failure,” Gardner said in an interview.
Ben Davis, a spokesman for Onsight Public Affairs, a firm that represents Connect for Health Colorado, did not return an email message or a phone call for comment.
By contrast, the figures for the expansion of Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus are much larger. Fifteen-thousand-thirty-nine Coloradans submitted new online applications in the first ten days of the month, according to Rachel Reiter, spokeswoman for the Department of Health Policy and Financing. An individual Coloradan must earn less than $15,900 a year to qualify for the expanded Medicaid program, or 138 percent of the federal poverty level of $14,856.
“We’ve been very happy,” Reiter said. She noted the 15,000 figure for new signups did not include those done on the phone, in person, or on paper, so total number may be higher.
The first weeks of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, have brought heightened scrutiny of the 2010 law.
President Obama delivered a 15-minute speech from the Rose Garden Monday in which he acknowledged the website for the federally-run exchange has suffered from more than computer “glitches” as he did on Oct. 1.
“(I)t’s not working the way it should be. And there’s no sugarcoating it. The website has been to slow and people have been getting stuck during the application he said,” Obama said, later helping to catch a woman behind his right shoulder who nearly fainted toward the end of his remarks.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testify before the panel to discuss the implementation of the law this Thursday. She will appear as early as next week, according to multiple news reports.
Uninsured Americans have been able to enroll in the Affordable Care Act since Oct. 1. They can enroll without penalty until Dec. 15. A penalty fee on a sliding scale would apply from them until March 31.
The first weeks of implementation of Obamacare in Colorado suggest a different story than nationally: the market for private insurance is weak even in some states with state-run exchanges while the market for public insurance is stronger.
Colorado is among 14 states that have set up their own exchanges for residents to buy health insurance on the private market. The other 36 states have new insurance marketplaces in which the federal government runs them on HealthCare.gov. Although writer Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic concluded the state-based exchanges have run “much better” than federally-run exchanges, the example of Colorado in which few people apply even on state exchanges casts doubt on his verdict.
In addition, Colorado is among the 22 states that have decided to expand Medicaid, the chief federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Fourteen states have rejected an expansion of the 1965 program, while another 14 states have until Jan. 1, 2014 to decide.
The discrepancy between the high sign-up figures for Medicaid expansion in Colorado and the low figures for the private marketplace in both Colorado and federally-run exchanges is difficult to explain. Reiter said the typical applicant takes 50 minutes to complete an online application, while President Obama said completing an application on HealthCare.gov takes 25 minutes after an individual can access the site.