Only 346 Oklahomans selected a health insurance plan in the first month of the federal health insurance marketplace's existence, according to federal government data released Wednesday.
The federal marketplace, created through the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” launched Oct. 1.
But the marketplace's website has been fraught with error, causing delays in enrollment for countless residents.
A total of 6,905 applications have been completed in Oklahoma, meaning hundreds of Oklahomans have gotten through the website's application process but haven't yet taken the next step to sign up for coverage.
David Blatt, the Oklahoma Policy Institute director, said glitches on HealthCare.gov were tremendously disappointing, but it's heartening to hear that people have still gotten through the website to complete applications.
“It's going to require a real effort to assure people that things have been fixed,” Blatt said. “At the same time, the need is out there, the demand is there, and we know there are thousands of Oklahomans who are looking to the exchange to get the affordable coverage they have not had in the past.”
Oklahoma's lawmakers were less enthusiastic.
Gov. Mary Fallin was quick to respond to the federal government's announcement, noting it's embarrassing that the Obama administration couldn't produce a functional website.
“Virtually everything this White House has told the American people about Obamacare has proven to be false,” Fallin said in a prepared statement. “The president said the law would lower the cost of health insurance, but we know that state employees in Oklahoma are seeing their premiums rise by as much as 12 percent. He said if you liked your health insurance plan you could keep it. We now know for millions of Americans that has proven to be untrue.”
The 346 Oklahomans who have chosen a plan don't represent the number of Oklahomans who have paid for a plan.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human ServicesKathleen Sebelius said they weren't yet releasing data on the number of people for fear of accuracy issues.
Sebelius noted that when Massachusetts launched Romneycare, a health care insurance reform law, there was initially a slow rate of enrollment.
“We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months, mirroring the pattern that Massachusetts experienced,” she said. “We also expect that the numbers will grow as the website, HealthCare.gov, continues to make steady improvements.”
By the numbers
There are likely many more Oklahomans who are eligible to buy coverage in the health insurance marketplace.
An estimated 256,000 Oklahomans are eligible for financial assistance available for people who meet certain income guidelines, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Based on the numbers released Wednesday, 1,432 Oklahoma residents who have applied for coverage through the marketplace were determined eligible for financial assistance, a fraction of the people who are eligible throughout the state.
Additionally, an estimated 446,000 Oklahomans are eligible to enroll in health insurance through the marketplace, including uninsured residents and people who buy nongroup insurance, according to the Kaiser data.
The deadline to select and pay for health insurance through the marketplace is Dec. 15 for people who would like their health insurance coverage to start Jan. 1.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said the numbers that the federal government released Wednesday were troubling, considering the number of Oklahomans who have received cancellation notices on plans they liked and wanted to keep.
“More people drove through my local Sonic in Oklahoma City today at lunch than have signed up for Obamacare in Oklahoma since October 1,” Lankford said in a news release.
Blatt said Oklahoma and many other Republican states will likely see low numbers of enrollment, at least at first, based on the political discourse and mood of those states regarding Obamacare.
“The relentless assaults on the Affordable Care Act from our political leadership have created a strong sense of opposition and hostility among many people who would benefit the new availability of affordable coverage,” Blatt said. “Even if everything was working perfectly on day No. 1, it was going to be an uphill battle to educate Oklahomans about the law and how it works and how they may be eligible for subsidies that will allow them to get quality coverage at an affordable price.”