US gov't still has no enrollment numbers for Obamacare website

The Obama administration is waiting until November to release insurance enrollment figures for the error-prone site

More than two weeks after U.S. President Barack Obama's administration launched a website allowing uninsured U.S. residents to sign up for health coverage, officials still aren't releasing the numbers of people who have successfully navigated the error-prone process.

After widespread reports of a slow or malfunctioning HealthCare.gov site since its launch Oct. 1, officials with the Obama White House and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said residents have been able to sign up for health insurance on the site this week.

U.S. residents are also able to sign up for health insurance over the phone and at some government centers, and have made more than 560,000 calls to the phone number set up to help people buy insurance, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday during a press briefing.

"Health care reform is more than a website," Carney said. "People across the country are getting health insurance."

But Carney and an HHS spokesman said no website traffic numbers are immediately available. Traffic numbers should be available monthly, starting Nov. 1, Carney said.

Officials said they're waiting to provide numbers of online sign-ups because they expect daily and weekly enrollment counts to fluctuate. Enrollment numbers may be volatile and falsely indicate trends that don't pan out in the monthly numbers, an official said.

In its first 10 days of operation, HealthCare.gov received 14.6 million unique visits, HHS said.

Administration officials originally blamed the website malfunctions on heavy traffic in the first couple of days that the new health insurance packages were available, but the website problems appeared to last beyond the first days. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law commonly called Obamacare passed by Congress in 2010, U.S. residents who don't have health insurance are now able to sign up for coverage through health insurance exchanges operated by states.

Carney called the widespread problems with HealthCare.gov "glitches." Those problems are "unacceptable," he said, but so was the inability of many U.S. residents to buy health insurance.

HHS spokesman Fabien Levy noted that people have nearly six months left to sign up for health insurance that would kick in next January. HHS continues to see "strong interest" in the health coverage, he said by email.

"We have greatly reduced, and even eliminated, wait times at the registration stage, and more people are actively shopping and comparing plans," he added. "We know that buying insurance is a thoughtful decision and many consumers are taking their time to consider their options before making a decision."

HHS plans to continue to improve HealthCare.gov "until its doors are wide open," Levy added.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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