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Health plan signups nearly double

by By SHARON LaFRANIERE and JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times News Service on November 19, 2013 10:40 AM

WASHINGTON — The pace of enrollment in health plans through the troubled federal insurance marketplace has nearly doubled since the end of October as software engineers have resolved some 200 of the more than 600 initial defects that had rendered the site all but unusable, according to people familiar with the repair effort.

As of mid-November, the number of enrollees, which the Obama administration defines as people who have selected a marketplace plan, was more than 50,000 — up from 27,000 in the entire month of October but still a fraction of the number the administration once hoped for.

Despite the progress, specialists are worried about whether they can meet the administration’s goal of enabling 4 in 5 users to enroll through the online federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, by the end of the month. One person familiar with the effort said a more realistic goal was that 4 out of 5 people “have a positive experience,” which could include being redirected to customer service agents.

White House officials said Monday that many of the remaining users would turn to call-in or counseling centers because their insurance situations were complicated.

But specialists involved in the repair effort said technical issues may frustrate more users than administration officials suggest. And it is unclear how many fixes remain to be made, because the list keeps changing.

Opponents of the health care law are already moving on to their next target. Two House committees are holding simultaneous hearings today to press officials from the Health and Human Services Department and its computer contractors on security vulnerabilities.

White House officials and some computer experts say much of the criticism is overblown, designed more to scare would-be enrollees away from the insurance exchanges than to prompt corrective action.

President Barack Obama also sought on Monday night to reassure his supporters in a conference call set up by the pro-Obama group Organizing for Action.

The call itself, however, was hampered by problems with the group’s website, and a number of people who dialed in were unable to hear Obama.

He did offer words of optimism to the many who could hear him.

“I am confident that by the end of this month, it’s going to be functioning for the vast majority of folks,” the president said. “I’ve never lost faith in our ability to get this done.”

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