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Fewer than 27,000 sign up through US health site

November 13, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer than 27,000 people enrolled for health insurance during the first, flawed month of operations for the federal “Obamacare” website, far fewer than expected, the Obama administration said Wednesday.

Even with the enrollment of more than 79,000 people in the 14 states with their own websites, the nationwide total of 106,000 for October was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected — and a small fraction of the millions who have received private health coverage cancellations as a result of President Barack Obama’s signature program.

The total also represents just 1.5 percent of the 7 million people the administration hopes to enroll by next year.

Obama’s legacy will depend heavily on the successful implementation of the health care overhaul, which is meant to extend medical insurance to millions of Americans who do not have it.

The White House raced to reassure anxious Democrats who are worried about the controversial program, which seems sure to be a major issue in next year’s midterm elections.

The website’s difficult launch Oct. 1 has given opposition Republicans a new line of attack against the health care law, which they unsuccessfully tried to derail last month in a fight that led to a 16-day partial government shutdown.

Republicans hope to use momentum from the troubled launch in next year’s elections.

Millions of lawmakers’ constituents are losing current individual policies that don’t meet the law’s requirements, despite Obama’s misleading promise that Americans who liked their health insurance plans could keep them under the overhaul. To guarantee they don’t experience a break in coverage, they would have to select new plans by Dec. 15. That’s a major political problem for Democrats who so far have stood by the president.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said things will get better, and quickly. “We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months,” she said.

The administration has staked its credibility on turning the website around by the end of this month. Officials, including Obama, have said that HealthCare.gov will be running smoothly for the vast majority of users by Nov. 30.

Administration officials have not specified what “running smoothly” means, or what would constitute the “vast majority” of users.

Obama has said he’s sorry that people are losing their coverage and has vowed to find ways to address “holes and gaps” in the law.

On Wednesday, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said the White House was considering legislative ideas.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduled an all-Democrats meeting Thursday with White House health care officials.

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Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

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