Many US Democrats have become discontent over the problems plaguing the US federal “Obamacare” Web site after first-month enrollment figures showed fewer than 27,000 people in 36 states enrolled for health insurance during the first, flawed month of operations.
Democratic impatience has grown over the program because it is likely to be at the center of next year’s midterm elections for control of US Congress.
Now, the White House is rushing to come up with an unspecified fix as early as this week to counter the millions of health coverage cancelations going to consumers and is taking a more open approach to changes in the law itself.
“We welcome sincere efforts,” presidential press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday.
More than 79,000 people enrolled in the 14 states with their own Web sites, bringing the nationwide total to 106,000 for last month. However, even that number is barely one-fifth of what officials had projected. It is a small fraction of the millions who have received private health coverage cancelations as a result of US President Barack Obama’s signature program.
After weeks of highly publicized technical woes, the administration had said in advance that the enrollment numbers would fall far short of initial expectations.
A paltry 26,794 people enrolled for health insurance during the first month of operations of the federal “Obamacare” Web site.
The administration said an additional 1 million people have been found eligible to buy coverage in the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce their premiums.
Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, which covers low-income people.
“Even with the administration’s Enron-like accounting, fewer people have signed up for Obamacare nationwide than the 280,000 who’ve already lost their plan in Kentucky as a result of Obamacare mandates,” Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
US administration officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in the program’s future.
“We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in overall charge.
Still, the White House raced to reassure anxious Democrats who are worried about the controversial program, which they voted into existence three years ago over Republican opposition as strong now as it was then.
US Senate Democrats arranged a closed-door meeting at midday on Thursday in the Capitol with White House officials, who held a similar session on Wednesday with the House rank and file.
So far, five Senate Democrats are on record in support of legislation by Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu to make sure everyone can keep their present coverage if they want to.
The bill would require insurance companies to continue offering existing policies, even if they fall short of minimum coverage requirements in the law.
The measure has little apparent chance at passage, given that it imposes a new mandate on the insurance industry that Republicans will be reluctant to accept.
At the same time, a vote would at least permit Democrats to say they have voted to repair some of the problems associated with the Affordable Care Act, as many appear eager to do.
Across the Capitol, majority Republicans in the US House set a vote for Friday on legislation to permit insurance companies to continue selling existing policies that have been ordered scrapped because they fall short of coverage standards in the law.
Obama apologized last week for the broken promise, but aides said at the time the White House was only considering administration changes, rather than new legislation.