WASHINGTON — — Just 26,794 people bought health insurance through the federal exchange during the first month since its troubled launch Oct. 1, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today.
In Tennessee, only 992 people had gotten a coverage plan using the exchange, according to a report released by the federal agency.
Nationwide, an additional 79,391 used the state exchanges to enroll, for a total of 106,185 people enrolled from Oct. 1 to Nov. 2. That's a fraction of the 7 million people the government estimates will buy insurance during the first year of the Affordable Care Act.
"No one will be satisfied with the numbers because they will be below what we sought prior to the launch," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
According to an Associated Press report, the administration had hoped that 500,000 people would enroll by the end of October.
Officials emphasized that 975,407 applications — for 1,081,582 eligible people — have made it through the enrollment process, but haven't yet selected a health insurance plan. And 396,261 have been found eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Plans. The state and federal exchanges had 26,876,527 unique visitors.
Despite the low numbers, Sebelius touted the overall level of interest in buying health insurance. "We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months, mirroring the pattern that Massachusetts experienced," she said in a release before the official announcement of the enrollment figures.
The states with their own exchanges outperformed those in the federal exchange: 3,736 signed up in Colorado; 4,418 in Connecticut; 5,586 in Kentucky; 16,404 in New York; and 7,091 in Washington.
Sebelius and other officials have said the enrollment numbers would be low given the rough opening for the HealthCare.gov site, which has been plagued with glitches, crashes and delays. They also say people would wait until closer to the March 31 deadline before purchasing a plan, as has been the case with past government programs, such as Medicare Part D.
Last week, Sebelius told a Senate committee that she expected the enrollment statistics to be "quite low."
The news follows reports that cited an unnamed administration official saying the federal health insurance website may not be working properly as promised by Nov. 30. White House chief technology officer Todd Park did not allay those concerns during a House committee hearing Wednesday.
His "team is working incredibly hard to meet that goal," Park said.
The new data show the state and federal exchanges processed eligibility determinations and assessments for 98% — or 1,477,853 people — of the 1,509,883 people who have applied for coverage.
The Nov. 30 date is important because customers must buy insurance by Dec. 15 to be covered on Jan. 1. However, anyone who signs up by the end of enrollment March 31 will avoid the individual mandate fee for not having health insurance in 2014.
Park said the site can now register 17,000 and provide access for 25,000 people per hour, but the administration hopes to provide access for 50,000 people per hour.