WASHINGTON -- The Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges enrolled 248 people in their first two days, as website outages and software errors hindered sign-ups, according to documents obtained by a congressional oversight committee.
Notes from three meetings at an Obama administration "war room," obtained by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., show that six people had enrolled Oct. 1, the first day of the website's operation. The summary of an Oct. 2 meeting stated that "direct enrollment is still not working," and about 40,000 applicants were idling in a virtual "waiting room."
The documents were circulated by Republican opponents of the health law, who are seizing on the botched rollout even as a new poll shows that more Americans than not want to expand Obamacare or keep it intact.
About 7 million people, mostly those now uninsured, are supposed to gain medical coverage in 2014 through exchanges created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
"We have always anticipated that the pace of enrollment will increase throughout the enrollment period," Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman Joanne Peters said Thursday. The notes circulated by Mr. Issa don't reflect "official enrollment statistics."
The documents were released late Thursday by the panel led by Mr. Issa, who is investigating the 2010 health law's implementation.
As of Oct. 25, Ms. Peters said, 700,000 people had submitted applications for insurance under the law. About half of those were through the federal online marketplace serving 36 states. The remaining 14 U.S. states built their own exchanges.
"We are focused on providing reliable and accurate information, and we do not have that at this time," Ms. Peters said, because of problems in transmitting enrollment data to insurers.
The flawed debut of the federal website is tarnishing President Barack Obama's signature first-term legislative achievement and threatens his second-term agenda. About 48 percent of Americans said the federal government is doing a "poor" job of implementing the health law, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday. Still, about 47 percent said the law should be kept or expanded, compared with 37 percent who said they want the law repealed.
Mr. Obama has accused the program's critics of misleading the public about how the exchanges work. Speaking Wednesday at a rally in Boston, Mr. Obama said the experience of Massachusetts with the start of that state's independent health care system in 2006 shows that the federal version will succeed.
Mr. Obama spoke hours after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized at a House hearing for the website failures. While she declined to provide the number of sign-ups, she said initial enrollment is going to be low. "There's no question that, given our flawed launch of healthcare.gov, it will be a very small number," she told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She said the government would release the first month's enrollment by mid-November.
About 8.6 million people visited the federal website in the first week, though most were greeted by long waits that prevented many from even registering. HHS has said capacity is being added to the system, and multiple upgrades are being made to the software code. But as of two days ago, error messages were still being displayed for some users.
Jeffrey Zients, the former Office of Management and Budget official whom Mr. Obama appointed Oct. 22 to help Ms. Sebelius's department sort out the website's problems, has said the site will work smoothly by the end of November. The deadline to enroll in plans that begin Jan. 1 is Dec. 15. Getting the site fixed soon is critical, as Americans who don't have health insurance by March 31 may have to pay a fine of as much as 1 percent of their income.
Mr. Obama's job-approval ratings hit an all-time low in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday that illustrated the political damage from the health law's troubled rollout.
Forty-two percent of Americans surveyed gave Mr. Obama a favorable rating, while 51 percent expressed disapproval, according to the poll. That is down from a favorable rating of 47 percent earlier in October and 53 percent at the end of last year, according to the poll.