(Bloomberg) -- Two days after the troubled online U.S. health exchange went live, just 248 people nationwide had successfully enrolled in insurance plans under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, documents show.
Notes from meetings at an Obama administration “war room,” obtained by Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California show six people had enrolled in plans on the first day the Healthcare.gov website was running. By the end of the second day, 248 people had enrolled, according to the notes, which were released Thursday night by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa leads.
The flawed debut of the federal website, where uninsured Americans can shop for coverage, is tarnishing the president’s signature first-term legislative achievement and threatens to undercut his second-term agenda. Obama has accused the program’s critics of misleading the public about how it works.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, Joanne Peters, said Thursday night the notes didn’t reflect “official enrollment statistics.” As of Oct. 25, she said, 700,000 people had submitted applications for insurance under the law. About half of those were in states served by the federal government’s enrollment service, she said.
“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. “We have always anticipated that the pace of enrollment will increase throughout the enrollment period.”
The Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was pressed by Republicans at an Oct. 30 House committee hearing to disclose enrollment so far under the health law. She declined, saying that she didn’t have the figures and the government would release the first month’s enrollment by mid-November. It is likely to be “a very small number,” she said.
Sebelius apologized for the website’s problems during the hearing and said Congress should hold her accountable for what she agreed was a “debacle.”
Some lawmakers, including 10 Senate Democrats, have asked Sebelius to extend the law’s first open-enrollment period, which runs until March 31. Sebelius, Obama and other administration officials have said that even with the website’s problems, there is plenty of time for Americans to enroll in coverage that doesn’t start until Jan. 1.
‘End of November’
Jeffrey Zients, the former Office of Management and Budget official that Obama appointed Oct. 22 to help Sebelius’ department sort out the website’s problems, has said that the site will work smoothly by the end of November. The deadline to enroll in plans that begin on Jan. 1 is Dec. 15.
Speaking at a rally in Boston on Oct. 30, Obama said the experience of Massachusetts with the start of its health care system in 2006 shows that the federal version will succeed. He addressed two criticisms from Republicans: that while he promised that people who liked their insurance could keep it, not all can, and that some people’s insurance will get more expensive.
Those people being thrown off plans that don’t meet the law’s standards will be getting better insurance, he said. And “a fraction” of higher-income Americans will pay more for insurance plans that are better than they had, Obama said.
Obama’s job-approval ratings hit an all-time low in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Oct. 30 that illustrated the political damage from the health law’s troubled rollout.
Forty-two percent of Americans surveyed gave Obama a favorable rating, with 51% expressing disapproval, according to the poll. That’s down from a favorable rating of 47% earlier in October and 53% at the end of last year, according to the poll.
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