Low Enrollment Numbers: Glitches or Lack of Interest to Blame?

Despite targeting seven million enrollees in year one of the Affordable Care Act, new reports show the Obama Administration is far off target from reaching its goal. In just over one month of open enrollment, states with functioning exchanges have enrolled only 49,100 people, according to health-care research and consultancy firm Avalere Health.

The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, and confirmed by FOX News. The Obama Administration had reportedly wanted to enroll half-a-million people within the first month of open enrollment.

The Department of Health and Human Services would not confirm the report, but formal enrollment numbers are expected later this week for the federally-run exchange, which has been plagued by glitches since it opened on October 1.

"We cannot confirm these numbers.  More generally, we have always anticipated that initial enrollment numbers would be low and increase over time, just as was the experience in Massachusetts, where only 0.3%, or 123 people paying premiums, enrolled in the first month.  And, as we have said, the problems with the website will cause the numbers to be lower than initially anticipated,” HHS spokesperson Joanne Peters told FOXBusiness.com in a statement.

The bleak enrollment numbers are certainly not good news for the troubled rollout, says National Center for Policy Analysis senior analyst Devon Herrick, but they are to be expected, all things considered.

Many policies nationwide not meeting the necessary ACA standards for minimum acceptable coverage are also being cancelled, so those with cancelled policies may soon turn to the ACA for coverage on both state and federal exchanges, Herrick says.

“We don’t want to run the risk of insurance companies cancelling policies, and people transitioning to new policies to find out they didn’t have to,” Herrick says. “For two to three million people, that could be a disaster.”

Susan Dentzer, senior policy advisor to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says the numbers are expected but disappointing.

“This is not to say anyone is happy about it—and the administration won’t confirm,” Dentzer says. “Given the issues around the site, it is not unexpected. The only comparison is the Massachusetts site, which was slow with enrollment but built up over time.”

And due to the glitch-filled rollout, it’s hard to tell if that has had a greater impact on enrollment, or if people just aren’t interested in coverage, Dentzer says.

“We know the administration is now talking with insurers about making direct enrollment options work,” she says. “That has been ongoing and taken on much greater urgency since the last few weeks of October. It’s hard to disentangle what is happening here, and which factor is having the greater impact on slowness of enrollment."