The number, which surpasses the 7.1 million total
Obama announced just last week, includes 400,000 people allowed to
sign up for private health plans through a federal marketplace after
a March 31 deadline because they had not been able to complete their
enrollment applications on time.
"We expect that to continue to grow," said U.S. Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who released the latest
figures during testimony before the Senate Finance Committee.
Sebelius said traffic on HealthCare.gov, the federal enrollment
website for consumers in 36 states, surged to 4.8 million visitors
on March 31. A federal call center received 2 million calls on that
day. Fourteen state-run marketplaces also experienced a surge and
are expected to add to the federal data.
Republicans have criticized the government for not providing more
detailed data on how many people have actually completed enrollment
by paying their first month's premium. Individual insurers have
estimated that number at 80 percent to 85 percent of their new
"It's like Amazon.com taking stock of how many people have placed
items in their shopping carts and then counting them as sales. In
other words, it's a false metric," said Republican Senator Orrin
Hatch of Utah.
Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aims to expand
health coverage to millions more Americans through subsidized
private insurance on state marketplaces and through an expansion of
the Medicaid program for the poor.
Sebelius acknowledged there are extensive backlogs of people in some
U.S. states who have applied for Medicaid but remain unable to
access care because of out-of-date state computer systems. Last
week, the government said three million people had enrolled in
Medicaid from October 1 through February 28.
Obamacare enrollment has become a political football as Republicans
and Democrats battle for control of Congress in November's
congressional elections. Democrats say the unexpectedly high numbers
illustrate the demand for healthcare reform, while Republicans
contend the figures are inflated by people whose existing policies
were canceled because of Obamacare's consumer standards.
[to top of second column]
Since October 1, a total of 11.7 million have qualified for
Medicaid, which is provided jointly by federal and state
governments. The numbers include people who gained coverage through
the Obamacare expansion and others who enrolled in Medicaid programs
that pre-date the healthcare law. About half of the 50 U.S. states
are expanding Medicaid.
Sebelius said an untold number of Medicaid applicants are stuck
in states that did not install computer programs capable of
transferring data to the federal government's automated system, as
the law intended.
"We are actually kind of ramping up the pressure on states and will
look at some potentially administrative reductions in payment if
people don't pick up this pace," Sebelius said, without providing
The Medicaid issue was raised by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez,
who said a single county in his home state of New Jersey is reported
to have a backlog of 10,000 applicants and only six state workers to
process the applications by hand. New Jersey is among the states
that expanded Medicaid.
"It would take nearly a year and a half to clear the backlog,"
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Michele Gershberg, Chris
Reese and Andre Grenon)
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