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Oregon Obamacare site flounders as feds make progress

Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013 | 1:35 PM ET
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And you thought HealthCare.gov had problems.

Oregon's state-run Obamacare exchange still isn't working more than two months after its scheduled launch, and the state on Monday said a paltry 219 people have filed paper applications for private health insurance so far.

Making matters worse, the official in charge of Oregon's disastrous health exchange website is now taking a medical leave amid harsh criticism of his job performance.

Cover Oregon, like all Obamacare exchanges, was supposed to begin operations Oct. 1. But a series of serious technical glitches prevented it from enrolling people online in individual health insurance.

(Read more: Shhhhh! Obamacare's enrollment error rate is top secret)

This means Oregon is at the back of the Obamacare enrollment pack among the 15 exchanges run by states and the District of Columbia. And even its claim about the 219 paper applications contains a major caveat: Not all of these forms have been forwarded to insurers yet.

Under the Affordable Care Act's additional goal of covering more people under Medicaid by expanding its eligibility criteria in some states, another 3,200 or so people in Oregon have enrolled in Medicaid.

Poor situation for Obamacare: Pro
Paul Howard, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Dr. William Grace, assistant professor at New York Medical College and a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, discuss problems on the Obamacare exchanges.

But these numbers still put Oregon's enrollment far short of what many had expected.

1 million visits to HealthCare.gov

Meanwhile, federal officials on Tuesday were crowing that their HealthCare.gov site had handled a huge number of visitors on Monday, the first business day of operation after officials said a major software and hardware repair effort had led to dramatically improved performance on the site.

(Read more: Obama throws insurers yet another bone for Obamacare costs)

The official Twitter feed for HealthCare.gov on Tuesday morning tweeted, "1 million visits to http://HC.gov yesterday. Site stable, faster for users." That is 200,000 more visitors than the capacity goal publicly set by Jeff Zients, the management expert tapped to fix the site.

Joanne Peters, spokeswoman for the federal Health and Human Services Department, followed up with a tweet of her own, saying that the 1 million visitor volume showed "high demand for quality, affordable health care."

So far on Tuesday, the site was showing continued progress, with officials sending another tweet that there were 380,000 visits by noon, with no need for a new queuing tool. That tool is designed to deal with high traffic volumes. On Monday, traffic at that point of the day had reached 375,000, and the queuing tool was deployed.

Source: Cover Oregon

Crunch time

December is a critical month for Obamacare because people must select a plan through the government-run health exchanges by Dec. 23 in order to have insurance kick in by Jan. 1.

So far, about 330,000 people have enrolled in coverage through either HealthCare.gov, which services residents of 36 states, or through the state-run exchanges. That is significantly below the 1.2 million people that federal officials had originally projected would have exchange-purchased insurance by the end of November.

(Read more: How GOP can exploit Obamacare mess)

HealthCare.gov's many technical problems, which were exposed right after its launch, have dramatically hampered enrollment on the federal site. Sources have said that just 125,000 or so people enrolled via the federal site by the end of last month.

Back in Oregon all eyes are on Dec. 16, the date when Cover Oregon hoped to be able to accept online enrollments for individuals.

Rocky King, the embattled director of Cover Oregon, said he didn't know if Cover Oregon would meet the target.

On Monday, King was granted up to 12 weeks of medical leave by Cover Oregon's board of directors. He said he has had health problems for years, but his leave comes after media in Oregon uncovered emails showing that there were numerous red flags earlier this year that the website would not be ready for launch.

"I'd always planned in the last year to take some time as soon as we really got through the launch on October 1," King told reporters. "Unfortunately, it didn't launch the way we wanted."

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

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