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More Obamacare enrollees in two days than all of October: sources

A busy screen is shown on the laptop of a Certified Application Counselor as he attempted to enroll an interested person for Affordable Care
A busy screen is shown on the laptop of a Certified Application Counselor as he attempted to enroll an interested person for Affordable Care

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More people signed up on the government's new health insurance website on the first two days of December than in the entire first month of the launch of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, sources familiar with the numbers said on Wednesday.

The sources said about 29,000 people enrolled on Sunday and Monday, surpassing nearly 27,000 for all of October when the opening of the HealthCare.gov website was beset by glitches that led to a public apology by the president and a retooling of the portal.

Obama's administration has been criticized by Republican opponents for not regularly disclosing figures over political concerns.

The improved enrollment figures provide the first evidence that a five-week emergency effort by the administration to fix HealthCare.gov was allowing more people to sign up for insurance in 36 states served by the website. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C. run their own online insurance marketplaces.

The agency in charge of the healthcare policy rollout, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said on Wednesday that it would announce official numbers later in December.

The upward swing is a tentative good sign for Obama, whose job approval ratings plummeted as the website made a disastrous debut on October 1 and millions received policy cancellation notices despite Obama's repeated pledge they could keep their current plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Preliminary government data has also indicated that about 100,000 people chose a health plan through HealthCare.gov during November. Tens of thousands more Americans have signed up through state exchanges.

While enrollment is improving, the administration is still far off track of the 7 million people whom the Congressional Budget Office has said were expected to sign up for private insurance through March 31. Also, insurers say they are struggling to cope with error-filled enrollment forms, a problem that may worsen as more people rush to meet the December 23 deadline to sign up for coverage that starts January 1.

Republicans, who have long opposed the healthcare overhaul commonly called Obamacare as an example of unwarranted government expansion that would increase costs, said the positive news in the numbers should not overshadow the law's shortcomings.

"While the administration is celebrating this small number, their announcement will be cold comfort for the millions who've lost the coverage they liked and the millions more facing higher premiums," said an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky. "And that's all assuming that the insurers are actually receiving the information needed to complete the process - which we still don't know to be true."

Uncertain corporate costs of the healthcare law and other regulations continue to stymie employment and capital spending, according to a survey released by the Business Roundtable, a confederation of top U.S. companies.

Obama, in an economic speech on Wednesday, vowed to keep working on improving the program, his signature domestic policy achievement.

"I've acknowledged more than once that we didn't roll out this plan the way we should have," he said. But he added, "This law is going to work, and for the sake of our economic security, it needs to work."

He said Republicans still wanting to repeal should explain what their alternative to Obamacare is. "You owe it to the American people to say what you are for, not just what you're against," he said.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Grant McCool)

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