WASHINGTON - The number of Americans who selected health insurance through the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, quadrupled in November over the paltry statistics in October, according to new figures released Wednesday morning.
The rise from 26,794 enrollees through Nov. 2 to 137,204 through November came before the government said the site had been repaired on Nov. 30.
Through November, the Department of Health and Human Services said, 364,682 people nationwide had signed up for health insurance through either the federal or state exchanges. The state exchanges enrolled 79,391 in October and another 227,479 in November, HHS said.
Federal and state exchanges, the websites where people can buy health insurance, opened on Oct. 1 but were hampered by outages, glitches and constant slowdowns that have eroded confidence in the Affordable Care Act and President Obama's support for it. But the latest round of statistics, officials said, showed enrollment in health insurance is gaining strength.
"Today, just two months into the open enrollment, nearly 1.2 million Americans have selected a plan or have been determined eligible for Medicaid or CHIP," the health insurance program for children, said Michael Hash, director of HHS' Office of Health Reform.
The new HHS report shows 534,103 people were found eligible for Medicaid through the state exchanges, and 268,974 signed up through the federal exchange through Nov. 30.
Officials say the federal site can now handle 50,000 people at a time and at least 800,000 a day. The HHS report showed that 1.8 million people have completed applications for insurance but have not chosen a plan, which Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman Julie Bataille called an encouraging sign of future growth.
The number of enrollees are expected to grow, Bataille said, as the government increases the scope of its marketing campaign. So far this week, she said, about 800,000 have visited the website.
"The HealthCare.gov website is night and day from where it was on October the 1st," Bataille said. "It's now easier than ever to shop for and compare coverage, whether that's online or over the phone."
Results in the 14 states that run their own exchanges were mixed in November, although most saw a dramatic increase over the first month, according to the HHS report and state officials. Some states also showed a continuing boost in the first week of December. They include:
• Kentucky. Enrollment in private insurance jumped from 5,586 people on Nov. 2 to 13,145 on Nov. 30, according to the HHS report. By Dec. 5, state officials said, 15,518 Kentuckians had enrolled in private insurance, while another 56,437 new people had enrolled in Medicaid, said Carrie Banahan, executive director of the Kentucky exchange.
• Connecticut. As of Dec. 4, state officials said 14,365 people had enrolled in private insurance, and 9,075 had become eligible for Medicaid. The HHS report said that through Nov. 30, 11,631 Connecticut residents had enrolled in private insurance and 12,635 had been deemed eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
• California. By Nov. 30, 107,087 Californians had selected a private insurance plan through the state exchange compared with 35,364 through Nov. 2, the HHS report showed.
In New York, as of Monday, 100,881 had enrolled in coverage. About 314,000 people had completed applications. New York also reported a 53% reduction in health plan rates from 2013's individual rates.
• Colorado. Through Nov. 30, 9,980 residents had enrolled in private insurance, the HHS report said, while state officials said 64,290 people had signed up for Medicaid. The state also said 1,090 people enrolled in a private plan in one day last week.
• Hawaii. Its state exchange failed to launch on time and then suffered from glitches that caused pages to freeze and prohibited people from signing up or determining their eligibility. This week, a new executive director started after the previous director resigned Friday. As of Nov. 30, 574 Hawaiians had enrolled in a private insurance plan.
• Oregon. Its exchange has prevented residents from signing up online at all. Instead, state workers have been entering enrollment paperwork by hand. As of today, state officials said, they had enrolled 9,947 people. Of those, 730 were in a private plan and 9,219 were enrolled in Medicaid. They have received more than 65,000 applications, but processed fewer than 10,000. However, more than 100,000 total have been enrolled in Medicaid through a fast-track option.
LONG WAY TO REACH GOAL
Despite the increase in the number of people signing up for insurance, the exchanges have a long way to go to meet their goal of 7 million new insurance customers in the first year, said Alan Cohen, the chief strategy officer of Liazon, which provides health exchanges to private employees.
"They've been stunningly, dramatically below expectations," Cohen said.
Before the new numbers were released, Cohen said he expected them to be "much bigger than in the past."
"But even with 100,000 people a day, we need to get 8 million," Cohen said. "It's just a big, big number. The numbers coming out seem like so much more than before, but they still have to be so much more. We could almost be lulled into complacency."
Americans have until Dec. 23 to select insurance and be covered by Jan. 1, and until March 31 to enroll in insurance and avoid paying a fine for being without health insurance.
Diversity among those buying insurance is more important than the sheer number of enrollees said Ceci Connolly, managing director of PWC's Health Research Institute.
"Obviously you want to see good, steady enrollment day after day after day," Connolly said. "But I will tell you that ultimately it's less about the number of people who enroll and more about who enrolls - a good mix of age and health conditions to spread out the risk."
The law has already changed how Americans look at health insurance, she said, citing the institute's annual health industry study released Wednesday.
In the past, Connolly said, an employer chose a couple of plans, and then the employees chose between the two plans. That means there's already more pricing transparency, directly because of the law.
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