Topics: Obamacare

106,185 sign up for Obamacare in first month

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This story was published at 3:30 p.m. and was updated at 4:35 p.m.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Wednesday that 106,185 Americans had enrolled in Obamacare exchanges during the problem-ridden first month of sign-ups for the president's signature domestic achievement, well below initial predictions by the administration.

The announcement intensifies a political headache for the White House as President Obama remains on the defensive over technical problems with healthcare.gov and his broken promise that all Americans could keep their insurance plans under Obamacare.

The administration projected that 500,000 would enroll in new insurance exchanges before the glitch-plagued federal website was launched.

Overall, HHS said that 79,391 enrolled through a state-based marketplace, while 26,794 enrolled through the federal website.

The administration said that another 975,000 people had applied and received an eligibility determination for the health program but had not yet selected a plan. In addition, nearly 400,000 people were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Plan, expanded under the health law.

On Wednesday, Sebelius released the first month’s figures and tried to downplay concerns, arguing that the administration would meet their targets by the end of the enrollment period.

“There is no doubt the level of interest is strong,” Sebelius said. “We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months, mirroring the pattern that Massachusetts experienced.”

The administration has drawn parallels between the troubled rollout of Obamacare and that of the Massachusetts health care law it resembles. In Massachusetts, concerns over initially-low enrollment numbers were overcome as more consumers registered in the state insurance exchanges near the deadline.

Sebelius predicted that enrollment numbers for Obamacare would improve in the coming months.

“They’re also numbers that will grow as the website, healthcare.gov, continues to make steady improvements," she said.

"The marketplace is working and people are enrolling," the secretary insisted.

The 106,185 signups represent Americans who selected plans from state and federal marketplaces. The enrollment figures include those who have not paid their first month’s premium.

Sebelius said the administration will know by Dec. 15 the number of total people who have paid for insurance coverage.

Despite the positive spin from Sebelius, the White House is facing a revolt on the left for the botched rollout of Obamacare exchanges, amid fears the issue could hurt Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.

Those fears have intensified amid reports that millions of consumers could be dropped from insurance plans which no longer conform with Obamacare’s new requirements.

Those cancellations come despite Obama’s repeated promises that consumers who liked their plans could keep them under the new law.

The president said last week that he was sorry some Americans were being dropped from their plans, but insisted that they would be able to find better coverage at lower rates under Obamacare.

Some Democratic lawmakers have called in recent days for legislation that would allow those receiving cancellation notices to remain on their current health plans.

Administration officials who helped design the problem-plagued healthcare.gov were grilled by lawmakers Wednesday, facing questions about how a major White House priority could go so poorly right out of the gate.

Analysts have also expressed doubts that the administration will meet its Nov. 30 deadline to fix the website.

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday, though, said the administration was “confident” the website would be working “smoothly” by December, though he cautioned that continued improvements could be made after that date.

Republicans were quick to blast the initial enrollment figures, arguing that they were proof that the health care law was not ready and should be delayed or blocked.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the numbers “underscore the urgent need for President Obama to allow people to keep the plans they have and like.”

“The president says he is sorry but has taken no action to right his wrong. Millions of Americans are being told their health coverage is canceled at the same time that they are shut out of the government website. And even if they do manage to navigate the system, many are being rewarded with sticker shock, not the lower prices the president promised,” Boehner continued.

“Above all, this report is a symbol of the failure of the president’s health care law. It is a rolling calamity that must be scrapped,” he added.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., responded to the numbers and said that the “real truth is even worse than we are being told.”

“Even if this data was an accurate picture, the administration would need to enroll 68,000 people per day to meet their year-end goal,” said Camp. “However, the website isn’t even designed to handle that much traffic and is currently capable of only handling less than half that much.”

He urged the administration to provide more information.

“We need the real data — including who is signing up, what kind of coverage they are getting and what the risk pool looks like — so we can take concrete steps to protect Americans from getting hit hard by higher premiums, or worse yet, a loss of coverage,” said Camp.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif., though said the numbers showed the "tremendous demand" for the health care law's benefits.

"While these figures are lower than originally projected because of the website issues, Massachusetts’ implementation of health care reform shows that we can expect enrollment to grow through the next five months. As access to the website improves, millions of Americans will see the quality, affordable coverage available to them on the marketplaces," said Pelosi in a statement.

White House correspondent Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.

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