Low Obamacare enrollment figures turns up heat on White House


(Updates with release of enrollment data)

By Richard Cowan and Caroline Humer

WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - About 106,000 people signedup for insurance coverage nationally under President BarackObama's healthcare law during October, the government said onWednesday, a tiny fraction of the millions of people that hadbeen expected to enroll for next year.

The Obama administration had signaled enrollment would bevery low in October because of technical failures that havehobbled the HealthCare.gov website used for signing people up in36 states. But the reported figures show how far the White Househas to go to build a new individual market of millions ofconsumers in 2014 to keep the healthcare program financiallyviable.

The enrollment in private plans amounts to 1.5 percent of aforecast 7 million people who were expected to sign up by thetime enrollment wraps up in the end of March. Nearly 1 millionpeople have successfully checked whether they are eligible forgovernment subsidies toward the new insurance, but have notselected a plan, according to the U.S. Department of Health andHuman Services.

The release of the low enrollment numbers for the firstmonth coincided with Obama's fellow Democrats in the U.S. Houseof Representatives demanding that the White House swiftly helppeople whose existing insurance policies are being canceled andto fix the broken website by the end of the month.

The sign-up figures reflect people who have picked a newinsurance plan but may not have paid their premiums yet. Some26,794 people signed up for private health insurance plansthrough the technologically-challenged federal marketplace and79,391 who signed up through state-based exchanges.

The figures showed 396,261 people were deemed eligible forthe government's Medicaid program or the Children's HealthInsurance Program for the poor.

House Democrats, seething over the problems, met withadministration officials for more than an hour on Wednesday,angry that the botched rollout could become a major politicalliability for the party during the 2014 mid-term elections.

A senior House Democratic aide said lawmakers called forObama to announce a remedy to the canceled policies before avote on Friday on a Republican bill allowing people to keeptheir current health insurance plans if they like them.

House Democratic leaders have urged their members to voteagainst it, saying it is merely another attempt to repeal the2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's biggestdomestic policy achievement, commonly known as Obamacare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he had along conversation with Obama on Tuesday night, and said he feels"very comfortable" that the website will be fixed.

Obama had repeatedly promised that Americans who liked theirhealth insurance could keep it when the law took effect on Oct.1, but several million people have received cancellation noticesbecause their plans do not comply with new requirements, such ascoverage for mental health treatment.

Republicans questioned administration officials on Wednesdayabout whether the website will be fixed by the end of November,as Obama has promised, to give people whose plans expire at theend of the year enough time to shop for replacement policies.

Todd Park, Obama's chief technology officer, stopped shortof saying the site would be fixed by the end of the month.

"The team is working really hard to hit that goal and that'swhat I'm able to say right now," Park testified at a sometimesacrimonious House oversight hearing. (Additional reporting by David Morgan, Thomas Ferraro, AlinaSelyukh; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Karey Van Halland Grant McCool)

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