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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

“Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling,” announced Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last Wednesday, referring to the botched launching of the federal government's Healthcare.govwebsite and the official announcement that only 26,794 people had signed up for health insurance in October using that troubled ObamaCare site.

“It is very much up and running,” declared Sebelius, referring to the still-malfunctioning federal website.

We're lucky she's not a pilot. I can imagine Capt. Sebelius' announcement to a plane full of panicking passengers as she's crashing a trans-Atlantic flight into the ocean: “Hold on, folks. We're just stopping for some really fresh fish while I bang the @#$%& glitches out of these @#$%& instruments!”

Altogether, 106,185 people selected health insurance last month using the federal and state websites — 79,391 using the 15 state-run sites and 26,794 using the federal site that covers the balance of the states.

October's total enrollment figure of 106,185 was only slightly more than one-fifth of the 500,000 enrollees the Obama administration predicted would sign up during the first month, and only 1.5 percent of the enrollees the administration predicts will be signed up by March 31.

Perhaps significantly, the 106,185 enrollee number “includes those who have selected a plan who either have or have not paid their first month's premium,” reported the Department of Health and Human Services.

Secretary Sebelius told reporters on a conference call that HHS would be able to tell them by Dec. 15 how many people had paid for their October coverage.

The whole operation is tricky, Sebelius told reporters — the correct enrollee numbers, the no-pays, the hackers, the glitches. “Insurance,” she said, “is very different from buying a toaster.”

No reporter responded by pointing out that we'd never be able to get a piece of bread toasted golden brown on both sides if the federal government made toasters.

HHS tried to spin October's sorry enrollee numbers as a success, proclaiming, “The first month enrollment experience in the Marketplace exceeds comparable first month enrollment in the Commonwealth Care program in the Massachusetts Health Connector.”

HHS didn't mention that the population of Massachusetts is just 2 percent of the population of the United States — 6,646,194 for Massachusetts in the U.S. Census Bureau's 2013 report, versus 317,062,164 on the U.S. Population Clock as I'm typing this sentence.

In any case, more than 47 million U.S. adults now go without health insurance. Enrolling people at October's rate of 106,185 per month, and assuming that those who aren't fully subsidized will get around to paying their premiums, it will take just short of a half-century to get everyone insured.

Except it's worse than that, because an estimated 5 million people lost their health insurance while the government bureaucracies were signing up 106,185 customers, and more piles of insurance cancellations are in the mail.

All this while they're just trying to get people to shop and buy — the easy part, like going online to buy a car. The real explosion of incompetency is going to occur when they start tearing the product apart.

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (rrreiland@aol.com).

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