Nearly half a million individuals signed up for health plans through the federal exchange during the first week of the open-enrollment period, HHS announced Wednesday. Applicants were almost evenly split between those signing up for coverage through HealthCare.gov for the first time and returning customers.
“It's still early and we have a long way to go, but we're off to a solid start,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, on a call with reporters.
The Obama administration appears to have avoided a repeat of last year's disastrous open-enrollment kickoff, when the federal website was plagued by technological problems during its first two months of operations.
Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator of the CMS, said customers encountered some glitches in the opening days, but that the “vast majority” of shoppers had a positive experience and that the site is capable of handling at least 250,000 concurrent users. “We expect there will be more bumps, but have confidence in the team's ability to address each of these bumps promptly,” Slavitt said.
Just over 1 million individuals submitted applications through HealthCare.gov during the first week of enrollment, with nearly half of them picking plans. The federal website had roughly 3.7 million visitors. Just over 1 million potential customers sought information through the federal call center. The average wait time for callers to get assistance was just over three minutes, according to HHS.
The enrollment statistics do not include any data from the 14 states and the District of Columbia that are operating their own enrollment portals. HHS officials indicated that they will be providing more detailed enrollment data about both the state and federal exchanges on a monthly basis. The open-enrollment period runs through Feb. 15.
Not all of the 462,125 individuals who signed up for a health plan will actually obtain insurance. That's because they have to follow through with premium payments in order to trigger coverage. At the close of the first open-enrollment period, HHS initially announced that more than 8 million individuals signed up for coverage, but that number has since eroded to less than 7 million.
HHS has predicted that between 9 million and 10 million individuals will be enrolled in coverage through the state and federal exchanges in 2015. The Congressional Budget Office has projected 13 million enrollments for next year.
HHS also announced three new partnerships to help with outreach efforts. The agency will work with the National Community Pharmacists Association, Westfield shopping centers and the XO Group to help spread the word about coverage options.
The deadline for enrolling in coverage that will kick in at the start of next year is Dec. 15. Current exchange customers who take no action prior to that date will be automatically re-enrolled in their existing coverage. But HHS officials are imploring customers to revisit their options ahead of the deadline because there may be better coverage options available. The number of insurers participating in the exchanges has increased by roughly 25% for 2015, according to HHS.
“We take this responsibility of the automatic renewal process extremely seriously,” said Kevin Counihan, CEO of HealthCare.gov. “Our primary goal is to make sure that people stayed covered on January 1.”
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