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Report: Sign-ups for Obamacare well short of target

| Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, 7:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Initial enrollment estimates for President Obama's health care reform program show participation is falling far short of expectations, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, raising pressure on the White House to get its rollout back on track.

Fewer than 50,000 Americans were able to sign up for new Obamacare health insurance plans in October through the error-plagued HealthCare.gov website, below the federal government's target, the newspaper reported on Monday, citing two people familiar with the matter. The data is from 36 states.

Official enrollment data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia will not be released by the administration until later this week.

One administration official said late Monday that the official figure will include people who have paid for a health plan and those who simply picked a plan and put it in their online shopping cart.

A low enrollment tally will likely be seized upon by Republican critics as evidence the law's implementation is failing.

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aims to provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans. It mandates that most Americans at least be enrolled for health insurance by March 31 or pay a fine.

Americans must enroll by Dec. 15 for coverage that begins Jan. 1.

The official October data will underscore the challenges that await the administration next month, when a rehabilitated HealthCare.gov is expected to begin handling enrollments for more than 1 million people who could be waiting to sign up for coverage to begin Jan. 1.

Separately on Monday, health care research and consultancy firm Avalere Health released a report that states operating their own functioning exchanges have signed up 49,100 people, which is 3 percent of enrollment predictions for all of 2014.

Before the rollout troubles, as many as 7 million Americans were expected to sign up for private health insurance offered through the online marketplaces for 2014. An additional 9 million are expected to enroll in an expanded Medicaid program for the poor by March 31, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“We cannot confirm these numbers,” Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said about the Wall Street Journal figures. “More generally, we have always anticipated that initial enrollment numbers would be low and increase over time.”

Obama has been battling negative publicity over the messy rollout of his signature health care overhaul, including the glitch-prone website and questions about whether he misled Americans when he promised that those who like their current plans can keep them.

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