By LAURIE KELLMAN and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
WASHINGTON — With time running short, the nation’s health care rolls still aren’t filling up fast enough.
New sign-up numbers Wednesday showed progress for President Barack Obama’s health care law, but not enough to guarantee Americans who want and need coverage by Jan. 1 will be able to get it. Crunch time is now, as people face a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up if they are to have coverage by New Year’s.
That means more trouble for the White House, too, after months of repairing a dysfunctional enrollment website. Next year could start with a new round of political recriminations because of the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare” to its opponents.
The Health and Human Services Department reported 364,682 people signed up for private coverage under the law as of Nov. 30. That is more than three times the October figure but still less than one-third of the 1.2 million officials projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November. The administration’s overall goal was to sign up 7 million people by March 31, when open enrollment ends.
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured Congress on Wednesday “we are seeing very, very positive trends” now that HealthCare.gov is working reasonably well. She also announced she asked the department’s inspector general for an independent investigation into contracting and management factors that contributed to the technology failure.
Yet, the revamped federal website serving 36 states continues to have issues, and some states running their own sites also face problems. Oregon signed up only 44 people as of Nov. 30.
That’s created stress and uncertainty not only for the uninsured but also for other people who now have insurance but are seeking to avoid an interruption in coverage in January.
Those trying to preserve their coverage include some of the more than 4 million people whose individual plans were canceled because they didn’t measure up under the law — as well as hundreds of thousands in federal and state programs for people with serious health problems, from cancer to heart disease to AIDS.
“Unless there is a proactive attempt to enroll these groups, you are likely to see a significant number of people whose coverage will lapse in January,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, a market analysis firm following the rollout. “That might not be a big deal, because they might not get sick, but some of them will.”