WASHINGTON — Fewer than 10,000 Coloradans chose a health plan in the first two months of the state’s insurance exchange program, a number that does not even consider if they have paid for a policy. Another 126,000 will need to sign up by the end of March for state officials to reach their goal.
The daunting task for Connect for Health officials was made clear after the Department of Health and Human Services updated its enrollment figures under “Obamacare” for all 50 states Wednesday.
Colorado had 9,980 individuals sign up in October and November. Although twice as many signed up last month, the number falls far short of the rate state officials have hinted is necessary to keep insurance premiums from rising. The monthly rate of sign-ups does not amount even to one leg on a four-legged stool.
With the Obama administration under fire for the rollout of its law, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared before members of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Wednesday. Her appearance was her third before the panel since Oct. 1.
Sebelius acknowledged the launch had been “flawed, frustrating, and unacceptable,” but said the experience on HealthCare.gov is “night and day compared to October.”
Loading a page takes one second instead of eight seconds, she noted. Nearly 1.2 million Americans have selected a marketplace plan; more than 364,000 have signed up for a health plan on the exchanges and more than 800,000 have enrolled in Medicaid, the main federal insurance plan for the poor and disabled, she said.
Early in the hearing, under questioning Sebelius admitted the sign-up figures do not account for whether the person has paid for the plan. She noted that payments on the federal exchange are not due until mid-December (On the Connect for Health website, the stated deadline is December 23).
Sebelius indicated that the accounting- and back-end functions of HealthCare.gov remain unresolved a month after Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) raised the issue at a hearing. Using bureaucratic language, she said the site’s technicians are doing “manual work around” to fix the problem.
Yet Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), the vice chairman of the subcommittee, said he attempted without success to pay for his health plan.
“Do you know how hard it is to make a payment on HealthCare.gov. You pull your billfold out to make that payment. I’m telling you, it’s almost impossible,” Burgess said.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), who does not serve on the subcommittee, sat through the first two hours of the hearing. After Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) compared Sebelius to North Korea for her refusal to provide a list of health plans that don’t cover abortion, DeGette walked behind her to talk with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) for several minutes. She left the hearing minutes later and waved off reporters’ questions.
A broader look at Colorado’s enrollment figures does not provide good news to supporters of the Affordable Care Act like DeGette. Although Colorado is far behind projections, the state stacks up better than nine of the 14 states that run their own exchange. It trailed only California, New York, Washington State, and Kentucky.
To get more Coloradans to enroll in the exchange, Connect for Health Colorado officials announced the site will be open for business the next two Sundays.