ObamaCare’s Mystery Number: Just How Many People Signed Up?

As the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance open enrollment period hits its one- week mark, the Obama Administration is remaining tight-lipped on just how many Americans signed up for coverage on state and federally-run exchanges.

During a White House press briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “We — I’m glad you asked that question, because I want to be clear about it. When it comes to enrollment data — you know, I want to clear this up — we will release data on regular monthly intervals, just like was done in Massachusetts and just like what was done in and is done when it comes to Medicare Part D.”

Carney referenced the previously-released Department of Health and Human Service’s (DHHS) numbers of 8.6 million people visiting Healthcare.gov in the first 72 hours of the rollout, and added it would be unlikely to get additional data before November.

When questioned by Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday on enrollment numbers, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Wallace the numbers at this point shouldn’t be the focus.

“The fact that so many millions of people rushed to get information is a very good sign…” Lew said. “Well, it's obviously not my primary area of responsibility, so my knowing or not knowing is not going to be indicative...”

On “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Monday, DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Stewart “I don’t know” when he asked how many people had signed up for coverage.

“Fully enrolled, I can’t tell you. I don’t know,” Sebelius said. “We’ve been taking applications on the web, on the phone, but I can tell you not only lots of web hits, hundreds of thousands of accounts created.”

Finally, during a POLITICO Playbook Breakfast with POLITICO Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen on Monday, director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling  reportedly admitted: “the truth is, we don’t have that information.” Sperling said the right thing to do would be to wait until Jan. 1 to consider enrollment numbers, and that the public should “stay tuned.”

Larry Kocot, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, who worked on the rollout of the Medicare Part D program in 2006, says it’s too soon to release any accurate figures.

States are tabulating enrollment numbers in different ways, and Kocot says traffic numbers are irrelevant until people actually write a check to pay for their monthly premiums.

“Different states are reporting different metrics,” Kocot says. “And some states don’t have a good handle on granularity. The number of hits on a website doesn’t determine enrollment.”

He adds that reporting low numbers during the launch could deter more people from signing up.

“If they release numbers too soon and they look very small, that could discourage enrollment,” he says. “The administration has worked themselves into a position here, creating high expectations with the number of web hits, then saying they can’t reveal anything until November.”

The responses the administration has been giving to questions mirrors some of the issues taking place within the exchange rollout, Kocot says.

“So far, there have been a lot of glitches, and this glitch in the technology has translated into a glitch in communication,” he says.