"It's coming along," Patty Fontneau, chief executive of Colorado's exchange, said of her state's enrollment numbers for private plans, which stood at about 3,400 people as of Nov. 1. "Would I want there to be more? Sure."
But exchange officials and others emphasized there was a long way to go before much meaning could be read from enrollment numbers. "We are not even in the first inning of a nine-inning game," said Kevin Counihan, chief executive of Connecticut's exchange, Access Health CT. "For people to throw out all kinds of inferences on success or failure at this point, I think, is really, really naïve."
Even states whose websites are working well say they are hampered by a common problem: the federal website, particularly the data hub that checks every applicant's identity and eligibility. That hub has stopped working on several occasions, preventing applications in the states from being completed.
After two such breakdowns recently, officials with Connecticut's exchange, which has worked relatively smoothly, said they would hire an outside contractor to verify identities when the hub fails.
"We're just trying to make this as easy for the customer as possible," Mr. Counihan said.
Other state exchanges that work relatively well also have problems. In California, for instance, the exchange website has yet to offer a complete directory of doctors and hospitals in each new plan network. And some users are still complaining about problems and error messages.
State officials also say many residents have been confused by constant news about the dysfunctional federal exchange, wrongly assuming that state exchanges have also failed.
"It's very hard for the public to differentiate what they're seeing in the paper about Obamacare not working — to realize that's not our website," said Richard Sorian, a spokesman for the District of Columbia's exchange, DC Health Link.
Exchange officials, policy analysts and insurance executives caution against reading too much into the enrollment numbers, saying the rocky start of both the federal and many of the state websites has discouraged many individuals from even trying to sign up.
"The numbers are definitely low," said Andrew D. Hyman, an official at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is closely tracking the rollout of the marketplaces, "but I think things will turn around quickly once the process is more reliable."
But the uneven rollout, even among those states that run their own exchanges, underscores the challenge of creating a new way to buy insurance, one that primarily relies on a website where people can compare plans.
"The states that had good leadership, good design philosophy and were pragmatic about planning and development of their exchange ultimately are faring the best," said Dan Schuyler, a director at Leavitt Partners, which worked with several states on developing exchanges.
Insurers, exchange officials and policy analysts all warn that the experience in the first month or so of the program provides little, if any, indication of whether the new marketplaces are succeeding. "This is all new," said Michael Wise, the president of ConnecticCare, one of the three insurers offering plans on the state-based exchange. "It's hard to know what we should have expected."
Some insurers say the confusion over some of the websites, along with the political noise, may be dissuading some people from trying to enroll, even in states where the marketplaces are functioning well. Some, like WellPoint, whose Anthem Blue Cross plans are being sold in marketplaces in more than a dozen states, including California and Connecticut, said they were trying to time their sales efforts for when they think there could be the most response. The company has indicated it plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on marketing its plans.
"We will be calibrating our marketing execution and messaging with the pace of the overall exchange readiness — and tenor of consumer sentiment," said Patrick Blair, WellPoint's chief marketing officer, in a statement.