By Maureen McKinney, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Oct. 3, 2013) — Health and Human Services (HHS) officials are staying tight-lipped about the number of people who signed up for coverage on the opening day of the federal government's health insurance marketplace, which operates exchanges for 36 states.
In a call with reporters, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the agency would be "releasing enrollment stats regularly," but she declined to provide any initial figures.
"We know that it takes some time to pull accurate data and information together," Julie Bataille, director of the CMS' office of communications, said during the call.
The first day of open enrollment was marked by long delays and system issues—problems HHS attributed to heavy traffic on the marketplace website. Roughly 2.8 million people visited the healthcare.gov site after the exchanges opened at midnight Oct. 1, Ms. Tavenner said. HHS also received more than 81,000 calls to its help center and participated in more than 61,000 Web chats, she added.
Ms. Tavenner acknowledged the technical problems but said the site's functionality would improve. "With any new product launch, there will be glitches," she said. "As things arise, we will fix them."
She also said HHS staff has since added capacity and made other adjustments that should alleviate some of the issues experienced Oct. 1. That's despite the government shutdown forced by the congressional deadlock over a continuing spending resolution.
State-run exchanges—many of which experienced their share of technical difficulties and delayed starts—were more forthcoming with enrollment numbers.
Kentucky's exchange, kynect, had processed more than 1,000 new applications for coverage by 9:30 a.m. EDT, according to officials. And by 1 p.m. PDT, more than 2,100 accounts had been created on Nevada Health Link, Nevada's exchange.
Experts say many Americans will window shop for plans during the first weeks of the exchanges, then get more serious in November and December. To obtain exchange coverage effective Jan. 1, people must sign up by Dec. 15.
Some observers predict the first people to sign up will be those with preexisting medical conditions, and that healthier people may procrastinate.
This report appeared in Modern Healthcare magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.