NYT: More than 50,000 have "selected" an ObamaCare plan on the federal website as of mid-November

I initially wrote “enrolled” in the headline instead of “selected” but then I remembered that HHS wants to count people who’ve placed a plan in their virtual shopping cart on Healthcare.gov but haven’t proceeded to checkout as enrollees too. It pays to be precise with language when the White House is as slippery as it is. Maybe they mean 50,000 enrollees, or maybe they merely mean 50,000 prospective/potential/possible squint-hard-and-it’ll-look-like-an-enrollee enrollees.

Either way, if I’m reading this correctly, the 50,000 figure represents the grand total of people who’ve, ahem, selected a plan since the website went live on October 1. That’s improvement — it means that 23,000 or so made a selection on Healthcare.gov in the first two weeks of November, nearly equalling the total for all of October — but they’re still way, way off the pace.

The latest evidence detailing the Web site’s troubled startup came amid signs of progress in repairing it. As of mid-November, more than 50,000 people had selected an insurance plan — up from 27,000 in the entire month of October, people working on the project said.

That is still a fraction of the number the administration had hoped for. And specialists plowing through an initial list of more than 600 software and hardware defects remain worried about whether they can meet the administration’s goal of enabling four in five users to enroll through the online federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, by Nov. 30. One person said a more realistic goal was that four out of five people “have a positive experience,” which could include being redirected to customer service agents.

Remember, per Henry Chao, it’s the front end of the site where people sign up that’s in comparatively good shape.

The federal target for enrollments through November is 700,000, which means they’ll be lucky to be a quarter of the way there by December 1 given the current rate of enrollment plan “selection.” On the other hand, things are looking up on the state exchanges:

Despite the disastrous rollout of the federal government’s healthcare website, enrollment is surging in many states as tens of thousands of consumers sign up for insurance plans made available by President Obama’s health law.

A number of states that use their own systems, including California, are on track to hit enrollment targets for 2014 because of a sharp increase in November, according to state officials.

“What we are seeing is incredible momentum,” said Peter Lee, director of Covered California, the nation’s largest state insurance marketplace, which accounted for a third of all enrollments nationally in October. California — which enrolled about 31,000 people in health plans last month — nearly doubled that in the first two weeks of this month.

Several other states, including Connecticut and Kentucky, are outpacing their enrollment estimates, even as states that depend on the federal website lag far behind.

The “incredible momentum” in California comes courtesy of no fewer than a million plans being canceled there to move customers in the individual market onto the O-Care exchange. If the LA Times’s numbers are right, no more than 10 percent of that number have now enrolled in a more “comprehensive,” quite possibly more expensive ObamaCare plan. California was, in fact, one of the state exchange success stories in October too: 35,364 people had “selected” an exchange plan as of November 2nd — despite a first-month enrollment target of 91,000. That put them just 39 percent of the way to their goal, and yet that was still the fifth-highest rate in the country thanks to the Healthcare.gov catastrophe and independent tech problems on some of the state exchanges themselves.

But look: Even the clown show at HHS will, given enough time, pull its act together and get the federal website running. Enrollments will increase; the mandate and its attendant penalty will see to it. The threshold question is whether they’ll reach sufficient volume by next summer to avert premium hikes in 2015 and/or a partial federal bailout of the industry designed to indemnify them from losses caused by early adverse selection problems. The best-case scenario for Democrats is that “young healthies” answer the bell en masse starting next month; that, at least, might spare them the dilemma of whether to pass Jeanne Shaheen’s bill extending next year’s enrollment period, which would only make the odds of adverse selection worse. Assuming all goes well for the rest of this year and the start of the next, the “only” ObamaCare problems they’ll have to face are access shock, a new round of rate shock over deductibles and co-pays, grumbling from people who are forced to pay the penalty in April because they didn’t enroll, and then the grand dumping of small-business employees onto the exchanges next fall. That’s what “success” looks like for the White House.

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