One Washington gets Obamacare right
Washington on Tuesday revealed its Obamacare enrollment numbers—just not the Washington you're thinking of.
Washington state finally released enrollment statistics from the health insurance marketplace it has been operating for a week, as did several other states, including New York and California, which revealed that tens of thousands of people have enrolled in their exchanges.
Even as they made those announcements, the federal government continued its silence about enrollment levels on its technologically hobbled marketplace.
"Fully enrolled? I can't tell you because I don't know," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday night, when "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart asked how many people had signed up for a plan on the federal government's Healthcare.gov site.
Sebelius' department, whose exchange is handling enrollments for residents of the 36 states not running their own exchanges, didn't add much beyond that Tuesday.
Enrollment levels are of keen interest to Obamacare advocates—and critics—because they are a key measure of whether the health-care reform law is seen as working as designed or falling short. The federal government has said it expects about 7 million of the 30 million uninsured to enroll for coverage for 2014, the first year most Americans must have health insurance or face a tax penalty.
If the marketplaces, or exchanges, don't sign up enough younger, healthier people in the menu of plans being offered, premiums in those plans may rise beyond levels which are considered affordable for most people.
(Read more: HHS Sec. Sebelius grilled on "Daily Show")
New York was Tuesday's big star, saying that more than 40,000 residents had completed the application process and been ruled eligible for the plans they had applied for since Obamacare enrollment began Oct. 1.
"This fast pace of sign-ups shows that New York state's exchange is working smoothly, with an overwhelming response from New Yorkers eager to get access to low-cost health insurance," said Donna Frescatore, executive director of the New York State of Health exchange.
California's exchange, Covered California, came in No. 2 among the states making announcements.
The Golden State said 16,311 people had completed applications and had their eligibility verified since its site launched last week. Another 27,305 people had partially completed applications.
"We've started strong," said Peter Lee, Covered California's executive director. "The amount of interest and number of applications we've received in the first week underscores the demand among Californians for quality, affordable health care."
Washington state said 9,452 people have fully enrolled in coverage set to begin Jan. 1. Most of them, about 8,500, are going to be covered by Medicaid, the government insurance program for low-income people, with the remaining 916 covered by health plans sold by private insurers through the online state marketplace.
Another 10,000 people have completed applications for coverage from private health insurers through the exchange but have not yet paid for it. Exchange officials said they believe that many, if not all, of those people are waiting until December to make their initial premium payments, as Dec. 15 is the deadline for payment receipt for coverage to begin Jan. 1.
"The number of applications we've received is a strong start to our six-month open enrollment period," said Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. "While we've seen a high level of initial interest, we know that individuals will continue to shop and wait to purchase a health plan until much closer to the effective start of coverage on Jan. 1, 2014."
(Read more: Obamacare tech woes)
Kentucky, which has raised eyebrows by going against the grain of Southern states by running its own exchange and conducting aggressive outreach, said it has enrolled 7,000 people in its Kynect marketplace.
Connecticut, which has been releasing enrollment data since last week, on Tuesday said its Access Health Connecticut exchange had processed 1,426 applications since Oct. 1.
Maryland has said 326 people have enrolled.
Sebelius said Monday night that Healthcare.gov has been accessed by hundreds of thousands of people who have created accounts, which are the first step in applying for coverage and for establishing whether income is low enough to qualify a person for government subsidies to offset the cost of the insurance. But HHS has said it will not release enrollment data until mid-November.
Since its launch Oct. 1, Healthcare.gov has been bogged down by a high volume of visitors, as well as by what experts have said are software problems.
(Read more: Obamacare exchanges:CNBC explains)
To fix those glitches, Healthcare.gov's application area was shut down for upgrades on off-hours over last weekend, early Tuesday morning and also was set to be suspended overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, which employs about 30 people who help applicants enroll for coverage, said these so-called navigators have been scheduling enrollment sessions as far as a week out because of the delays in getting through the process on Healthcare.gov.
"The federal Web site is not working very well," said VPLC spokeswoman Jill Haken. "Some of [the navigators] are just slowing down appointments so the system can correct."
Navigators are continuing to help people enroll in Obamacare coverage via paper applications and Healthcare.gov's call center, she said.
Virginia is not running its own exchange, which is why residents have to use the federal exchange site.
—By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter