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State-run health care exchanges still struggling to see uptick in sign-ups

Oct. 2, 2013: A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York.Reuters

While the rush grows to meet Saturday’s self-imposed deadline for improving the ObamaCare website, the real story behind the government’s success or failure may be hidden in the abysmal state-run exchange figures.

The White House has been busy pitching the plan’s merits across the country and flown in the A-Team of tech experts to work round-the-clock on a major makeover for the online portal.

In fact, by the middle of November,14 state-based marketplaces reported data showing enrollment numbers doubling from the disastrous roll out a month earlier, to 150,000 from 79,000.

But the numbers are still below where they should be. In Colorado, for example, enrollment figures are below the state’s own worst-case projections.

According to The Denver Post, the lowest-level mid-November enrollment projection was11,108, the middle range 20,186 and highest hitting 30,944.

The projections were made during a pitch to a state finance committee. On November 18, the exchange announced it had signed up only 6,001 residents to date.

Many state leaders have blamed the sluggish sign up numbers on public disinterest.

Hawaii saw its first health care casualty last week, when the executive director for the state exchange announced her resignation. Coral Andrews, who headed up Hawaii Health Connector for the past two years, said she was quitting amid massive delays in getting the insurance marketplace off the ground.

Hawaii has been pummeled with problems, starting with its rollout date. The state website and exchange was supposed to be up and running by Oct. 1 but software glitches kept the site dark for two weeks. In the month that the exchange has been up, only 257 people have enrolled.

Hawaii’s challenges -- which include extremely slow connectivity and frequent error messages -- mirror what many state-run exchanges are experiencing.

Things got so bad in Maryland that the exchange board decided to let insurance companies deal with payments directly. The state also delayed its small business marketplace enrollment deadline until April.

During the exchange’s first full month of operation, only 1,278 people signed up for the state-run option. During the first week in November, 465 people signed up. The low numbers have some questioning whether Maryland will make its goal of signing up 800,000 uninsured residents during its first year.

“The complexity of the challenge has been clearly more than we anticipated,” Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s health secretary, said in a statement. “Our focus is on improving the performance of the system. We are really looking for significant improvement.”

Maryland officials say they are trying to patch up their problems by putting away the bells and whistles on their website and focusing on core functions needed for sign-ups.

That’s a plan Oregon officials may want to embrace, too.

Embarrassing tech troubles there have prevented anyone from signing up for a private plan.

Still, it has not been all bad. There are some signs that some state exchanges are learning from their mistakes. Others are almost thriving.

In Washington state, 7,091 residents signed up through the state’s online exchange, making it one of the top-performers in the country.

Rhode Island has also fared well by comparison. The state had 1,192 individuals log in and sign up for health insurance.

The enrollees make up about 1.7 percent of the state’s market size estimated at 70,000.

New numbers on the New York State of Health website show a significant jump in enrollments there. So far there have been 76,177 enrollments and 257,414 completed applications.

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