Healthcare.gov Enrollment Falls Far Short of Expectations, Only 26,794 Sign Up

PHOTO: The Healthcare.gov website is displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Oct. 24, 2013.
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Only 26,794 people, a far smaller number than expected, successfully chose a health insurance plan using the glitch-plagued Healthcare.gov website in its first month, the Obama administration announced today.

In total, 106,185 people signed up for health insurance in October, and most of those individuals -- 79,391 -- used the 15 state-run websites, not the troubled federal site.

As problems with Healthcare.gov persisted into its second month, it became clear that the site would not meet the administration's own projects.

The total enrollment figure for the first month was about one-fifth of the 500,000 enrollees who were predicted to sign up, according to a Sept. 5 administration memo obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by ABC News.

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And the total represents 1.5 percent of the estimated number of enrollees that should sign up for health insurance using the websites by the March 31 deadline, according to the Department of Health and Human Services report.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius insisted today that the website has improved and she urged people who might have started signing up to return to finish their applications.

"Even with the issues we've been having, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling," Sebelius told reporters this afternoon. "As we make continuous improvements to Healthcare.gov, we have every reason to believe that more people will enroll."

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The numbers release today include people who selected a plan, but might not have yet paid their first month's premium, the administration said.

Sebelius acknowledged that people could still change their plan selection or decide not to purchase a plan at all, but she said that the more accurate figures of how many people have paid for their insurance in order to be covered by Jan. 1, 2014, would come by Dec. 15.

"Insurance is very different from buying a toaster," Sebelius said. "People visited the site, multiple times before they finally made a decision."

State-by-state data indicates that many state-run exchanges have experienced robust participation.

California alone has signed up more than the entire federal exchange, with more than 35,000 who have selected plans.

New York has signed up more than 16,000 people.

Other states have reported far lower numbers, especially if their exchanges were one of the 36 run by the federal government.

Delaware accounted for 97 enrollments, North Dakota, just 42, and Alaska 53.

The insurance marketplaces rely on healthy, young people to sign up in order to offset the cost of older and sicker enrollees that insurance companies are now obligated to cover, regardless of pre-existing conditions.

But Sebelius declined to release demographic data about the composition of enrollees.

She noted, however, that a substantial number of people -- 975,000 -- have completed their applications and are eligible for coverage, but have not picked a plan.

The administration expects enrollment trends to be similar to the experience in the Massachusetts health care law's implementation, as well as the federal Medicare Part D enrollment, which saw most enrollees sign up in the final days before the deadline.

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