Health plan enrollment rises as Sebelius faces House GOP - The Buffalo News

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Health plan enrollment rises as Sebelius faces House GOP

WASHINGTON – The number of people selecting health insurance plans in the federal and state marketplaces increased in November at a brisk pace, bringing the total to date to nearly 365,000, or more than triple the number who signed up in October, the Obama administration said Wednesday.

More than a quarter-million people picked health plans last month, and more than half of them were in state-run exchanges, the administration said.

In the federal exchange, 110,400 people chose health plans last month, four times as many as in October, when the federal website prevented many consumers from seeing details of the health plans.

The new enrollment numbers do not reflect reports of a surge in sign-ups since the end of November, when the administration had promised improved performance for most users of the website. In the first week of December, about 112,000 people selected plans through the federal marketplace, according to people familiar with the project, which would mean enrollments for this month have already outpaced those in November.

If sign-ups continue at the current rate, more than 1 million people may have selected plans by Jan. 1, when major provisions of the new law go into effect. The Obama administration was counting on having 7 million enrollees by the end of the first enrollment period on March 31.

The new data became available as Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, prepared for another confrontation with Republicans on the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, which called a hearing Wednesday to investigate the rollout of President Obama’s health care law.

At the hearing, Sebelius said the federal government had made contractual commitments to spend $677 million on information technology for and had paid out $319 million through October.

However, she said that the financial management system for the federal marketplace – needed to pay insurance companies — was “in the process of being put together.” It will be ready by mid-January, she said.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “Far too many Americans who were happy and satisfied with their health coverage have had their worlds turned upside down as we approach Jan. 1, 2014.”

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said Republicans were “trying to obstruct and sabotage the Affordable Care Act, rather than working in a constructive way to make sure as many people as possible benefit from it.”

Sebelius acknowledged that flaws in the federal website had “dampened enthusiasm” for the health care law and had discouraged people from using the site to obtain insurance. But she said, “We are seeing very, very positive trends.”

When people learn about their options under the health care law, she said, they express “enormous enthusiasm and often huge relief.”

Before the hearing, Sebelius announced that she had ordered an internal investigation of the botched rollout of the health care website.

“I have asked our inspector general, Dan Levinson, to review the development of,” Sebelius said. “We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website.”

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