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Come back! HealthCare.gov invites 275,000 to try again

Tuesday, 12 Nov 2013 | 4:58 PM ET
HealthCare.gov website experiencing outage.
Source: HealthCare.gov
HealthCare.gov website experiencing outage.

If at first you don't succeed at Obamacare, try, try, try again.

The federal government on Tuesday began inviting about 275,000 people who had trouble creating accounts on the tech-troubled Obamacare site HealthCare.gov after it launched to "try again" after a series of ongoing software fixes.

But the government doesn't want all of those folks coming back all at once: Email notices to them are being sent out in "waves" so that HealthCare.gov isn't overwhelmed, again, by a flood of people, an official said.

"We want to make sure we are inviting individuals back into the system and their experience will be a positive one," Centers for Medicare and Medicaid spokeswoman Julie Bataille told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.

(Read more: Young women with pricey taste on Kentucky's Obamacare exchange)

Bataille said the technical upgrades being made on HealthCare.gov have left the system "stable" this week, "with users moving more quickly through it with fewer users errors."

HealthCare.gov was effectively crippled right after it launched Oct. 1 by a host of software problems that left it unable to enroll many people in Obamacare insurance, and also created serious problems with the quality of data being sent to insurers about the relatively few people who managed to create an account and shop for coverage.

Federal officials later this week are expected to release, for the first time, enrollment data for the 36 states for which HealthCare.gov is handling enrollment.

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That number is expected to be very low. The Wall Street Journal on Monday reported that enrollment to date is likely to be less than 50,000, while The Washington Post has said it is closer to 40,000. Those numbers are about 10 times less than a prior government estimate that 500,000 people would enroll in the month of October alone, and the government's stated goal of enrolling 7 million people in Obamacare insurance by next spring.

Another stark contrast was provided by New York's own, state run-health health insurance marketplace, which on Tuesday said it has enrolled more than 48,000 people in insurance. While nearly half of those people will be covered by Medicaid, the rest signed up for the same type of privately issued insurance that is being sold on HealthCare.gov.

Bataille would not confirm the media-reported enrollment numbers for HealthCare.gov site, but did say initial enrollment is likely to be "low."

She also confirmed a Washington Post story that said the enrollment figure reported by the government will include anyone who has created an account and actually selected an insurance plan. Some people who have not yet paid premiums for their selected plan will be included in that enrollment total, which Bataille said reflects the fact that people have until Dec. 15 to make their first payment to ensure that coverage kicks in Jan. 1.

Bataille said she did not know if the enrollment data will be broken out demographically to reflect the age of the enrollees.

(Read more: Bill Clinton says Obama should 'honor' health-care pledge)

There is intense interest in the question of the age of the people enrolling in Obamacare insurance because insurers need a fairly large number of younger, healthier people to sign up for coverage to offset the costs incurred from paying out benefits to older, sicker enrollees.

Over the weekend, the team of private contractors and government workers trying to fix HealthCare.gov tackled a variety of hardware and software issues, according to Bataille.

The team added "two, large-scale data storage units" and made a series of software fixes "that addressed dozens of outstanding issues," she said.

"The site is getting better each week, and by the end of November will be working smoothly for the vast majority of users," Bataille said.

The end of November is a key target, because of the Dec. 15 deadline to enroll in coverage beginning Jan. 1. However, open enrollment in Obamacare continues through March 31, the deadline for nearly all Americans to obtain some form of health coverage or face a tax penalty.

(Watch: Shutdown HealthCare.gov, and get it fixed: expert)

Despite Bataille's prediction, the White House is engaged in a series of ongoing discussions about what to do if the Nov. 30 deadline is not reached. The options reportedly on the table include extending the open enrollment period, which is strongly opposed by the insurance industry, and raising the income maximums for qualifying for government subsidies to buy coverage.

By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter @_DanMangan.

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