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Obamacare Enrollment Numbers Released

Aired November 13, 2013 - 15:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. Welcome to this special expanded edition of THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And I have some breaking news: 106,185. 106,185. That's the number of how many Americans picked health plans through both the federal and the state Obamacare marketplaces during the first reporting period from October 1 through November 2, according to the Obama administration.

Now, let me break that number down for you. Of that 106, 185, 79,391 individuals purchased their plans, enrolled in these plans through the state exchanges. Kentucky has its own exchange. Maryland, New York, they have their own exchanges. But most states do not; 36 states do not. They use the federal site,

And through, the number is 26,799. That's how many individuals were able to enroll in the health care through, the troubled Web site that we have been covering for so long now, 26,794.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is releasing these numbers right now on a conference call with reporters. She's also telling reporters that nearly 400,000 people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Medicaid, as you know, was expanded as part of Obamacare.

These numbers have been a closely guarded secret by the administration. They have struggled in the last few weeks to explain the severe technical difficulties that users have found on, and we see with only 26, 794 individuals being enrolled, those numbers affected by the disastrous rollout of this Web site.

We're bringing you complete coverage as the administration finally releases these numbers.

Here with me, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, and senior White House Jim Acosta is outside the White House.

Gloria, let's start with you. What do you make of these numbers, about 27 million visitors to the health care exchanges, and over 100,000 enrolled in both the federal and state exchanges, but still, only 26,794 able to enroll through

(CROSSTALK) GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: has been a complete disaster for the administration. It's clear they have been lowballing what to expect. And I'm not quite sure they lowballed it enough.

It's clear that the state exchanges are having, you know, a better time of it than the federal government exchange. There seems to be a great deal of interest out there, however, in sort of the health care plan and in people shopping. But I think what you're going to hear a lot of talk about is what's the difference between enrolled or logged on?

I mean, I have a little bit of experience with online shopping, as I'm sure Dana and you do, too. And there's a difference between putting something in your cart and checking out. And that's the big question here. How many people will finally check out and pay?

TAPPER: Let's go to Jim Acosta at the White House.

Jim, the White House had told you this morning to expect these number as soon as today. It was unclear if they would wait until the end of the week. Do you have any sense of why they released these numbers today?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. No sense yet, but the pressure has been ramping up, Jake, as you know.

And to Gloria's point just a few moments ago, what does enrolled mean? I do have some guidance from a spokesperson for Health and Human Services who says that enrollment does not necessarily mean that these people have made payments, that some of these people have selected plans, but they have not made payments. I just want to caution our viewers, I talked to a spokesperson for a Blue Cross/Blue Shield association earlier today who said in their minds enrolled means making payments.

So there is a difference of opinion here, I think, Jake, between what the administration is putting out in terms of what enrolled means and what the industry thinks. The other thing that we should point out is that, as you said, Jake, there's been an incredible demand to get on these Web sites, 27 million unique visitors to the federal and state online exchanges.

Those are unique visitors according to HHS, 19.5 million to the federal marketplaces, and seven million to the state-based marketplaces. That's a lot of people getting on these sites and trying to get this information. But out of that whopping number of people, to only have 106,000 or so people enrolled, both federal and state, that's a very, very low number.

And it's a number that frankly the administration from the president on down, they have been trying to prepare the American people for, for the last several days, Jake.

TAPPER: That's right, Jim, and as the graphic right there notes, it was projected that 1.16 million individuals would have enrolled through the month of November.

They need, I think, seven million to be enrolled by next spring in order for this to operate as they need to.

I want to go to Dana Bash now here.

What is the reaction you're getting from Capitol Hill?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I told you so from Republicans, as you can imagine.


TAPPER: I thought you were even going to -- you told me so.



TAPPER: I didn't do anything.


BASH: Yes, exactly.

No, but, in all seriousness, Republicans are saying, I told you so. We just got a statement from the House Ways and Means chairman, Dave Camp. That committee is one that has oversight of these issues and he says that people in Michigan, his home state, are having more cancellations in their policies than anywhere else, and that in terms of the data, even if it was accurate, though he suggested he's not sure that it even is, that the administration would need to enroll 68,000 people per day to meet its year-end goal, which it clearly is not going to meet based on this.

But I do think that the difference that you talked about at the very beginning of this between the state exchanges and the federal exchanges is important. Obviously, these state exchanges were the ones that the administration really wanted everybody to go into. That was sort of part of the original law.

TAPPER: They wanted each state to set up their own.

BASH: Exactly. They wanted it to be state-run, not federal, but because you have a lot of Republican governors and legislatures who weren't interested in this, that's why it was going to the federal government.

Maybe not so much of a surprise that the states seem to be doing better than the federal government does.

TAPPER: Hold that thought. Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Jim Acosta at the White House, stick around.

We will get in a quick break. Still ahead, I will talk to one of the key advisers for the creation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. How does he explain these numbers?

And, later, he's warned the White House against cooking the books on Obamacare. So what does House Majority Leader Eric Cantor make of all this? I will ask him when he joins me coming up.

You're watching a special expanded edition of THE LEAD. Stick with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to this special extended edition of THE LEAD.

We're taking a closer look at these newly released numbers from the Obama administration on just how many Americans have been able to sign up for Obamacare through the federal and state Web sites, the magic number, 106,185.

Those are the people who have gone through the process of filling out their applications and selecting plans on both the federal Web site -- or, rather, on either the federal Web site or on a state Web site. There are 14 states that have their own Web sites.

Now, let's break down this 106,185 number, because this is important. The number of Americans who have been able to enroll in Obamacare through the state exchanges is 79,391. I'm told that roughly a third of those are in California alone. Less successful is the federal Web site. Only 26,794 have been able to sign up and enroll through the Web site.

This is significant, of course, because most states are using the Web site, 36 states, plus the District of Columbia.

I want to bring in the co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE," former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He joins Dana Bash and Gloria Borger.

Speaker Gingrich, what's your take? This is obviously not a great number, 26,000. And the 106,000, while relatively good, is not anywhere near the 1.6 million, I think, that they needed to have to be on schedule.

NEWT GINGRICH, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Everybody recognizes this has been an embarrassment and maybe a disaster.

When you have a country of 315 million people and the federal portion is 26,794, and the gap between the country and the number signed up is astonishing. Somebody pointed out -- and I thought it was an amazing number. They have had since the passage of the bill one month longer than the entire American participation in World War II.

That is from the time they signed the bill was about the time it took us to go from Pearl Harbor to defeating Germany, Italy, and Japan, and they haven't been able to get the Web site to work. What this says at a deeper level is, why are you going to trust people this incompetent with your health? Why are you going to trust a bureaucracy this incompetent with life-and-death decisions? I think this is going to be a very major debate over the next two or three years because I don't think they can fix the impression they're giving that they can't run this. It's too big, too complicated and the bureaucracy is too obsolete.

TAPPER: And you think that this is going to give renewed energy to Republicans who are trying to defund or end or overturn Obamacare?

GINGRICH: The biggest story, and Dana covers this more than I do, and you have covered it much more than I have, the biggest story right now is you have Senate Democrats, including people not up for reelection, and you have most of the Democrats in the House pretty clearly saying to the White House, you don't have some pretty good answer by Friday morning, don't tell us to vote no.

BORGER: But there isn't any good answer, right? That's the problem, because if you extend the open enrollment, the insurance companies are going to have to adjust their premiums, which were geared to this. Premiums are going to start going up.


TAPPER: This is two different things.


GINGRICH: But my point is, the Fred Upton bill in the House on Friday, the bill is being introduced in the Senate by Democrats. This thing is starting to unravel in a way which isn't just partisan. But it's people going back home and running into angry people who are saying, what are you doing to me?

BORGER: Right.

GINGRICH: And in the long run, the great thing about a free society is survival leads politicians to rethink things because they haven't got a good answer.

BASH: But the thing to keep in mind, though, is that all of those Democrats that I have talked to who are really frustrated with the way the White House has handled not just the Web site, but as you were talking about, the idea that the president didn't or couldn't keep his promise that if you have your plan --


TAPPER: If you like your health care, you can keep your health care. That's the thing about Friday.

BASH: Yes, that's the thing about Friday. And they are two different issues. But they obviously feed into the broader concern.

To a person, every Democrat who I have talked to who says that, they also says we have to fix this, because -- for several reasons. One is because I think that they fundamentally do believe in the idea of having this kind of health coverage, but also, politically, because most or many of them voted for it, so they can't afford --


BORGER: Their credibility is on the line.

TAPPER: Let's go quickly to Jim Acosta, who is at the White House.

Jim, how is the White House responding to the feedback and the blowback that they're getting from the release of these numbers?

ACOSTA: Well, you know, they have been saying all along, Jake, that they knew they were going to be low, very low, in the words of Kathleen Sebelius at that hearing.

You were talking about the plan and what to do about these people who are getting these notices from their insurance companies despite the president's pledge if you like your plan, you can keep it.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier today at the briefing, Jake, said that the White House is going to have a plan for those folks sooner rather than later. He was also asked about a potential meeting with Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and other Senate Democrats and White House officials. Jay Carney did not respond to that question, said he couldn't confirm a meeting just yet, but basically went back to that notion that he said, look, we will have a plan sooner rather than later.

One other thing I do want to point out, you asked me, Jake, earlier, why did they come out today? The White House has always said, the administration has always said that they were going to have these numbers in mid-November. But obviously if you go through the tally, Jake, there are some places like the District of Columbia, they have not reported numbers yet. Hawaii has not reported numbers yet, according to this longer breakout that's been provided by HHS.

And what I have been told by the people at HHS is that they're still going through these numbers to make sure that they're accurate. For example, when it comes to the enrollment number, they say that the reason why they're not counting payment is because payment would result in a reporting lag time, so information would need to be verified with the issuers, the insurance companies.

So this is just a big, huge mess, Jake, quite frankly, to get all of these numbers together. It is sort of amazing that HHS and the White House have been able to boil it down in these numbers and put numbers on paper, because, quite frankly, they probably just don't have a firm grasp on what the exact numbers are at this point because they are so fluid.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House.

This special expanded edition of THE LEAD continues next.

You have heard the numbers. Next, I will ask one of the architects of the Obamacare for his reaction.

Stay with us. We will be right back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to a special expanded edition of THE LEAD.

We have been talking about the breaking news, the latest enrollment numbers just released from the Obama administration indicating that 106,185 have enrolled in Obamacare either through a state exchange or The number on the federal level -- and 36 states use that federal Web site, -- very, very low, 26,794.

Let's get some reaction to these numbers from someone who was an adviser involved with the creation of the Affordable Care Act. Jonathan Gruber is an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT. He was also behind the Massachusetts health care plan, Romneycare, as you may know.

So, Mr. Gruber, Professor Gruber, these numbers are rather disappointing, I would think. Do you think that the administration is going to be able to get the Web site up and running enough to make the seven million enrollee projection needed by the spring?

JONATHAN GRUBER, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: You know, I don't agree with the characterization it's disappointing.

I think they're basically meaningless. Look, when we opened our system in Massachusetts, the first month that people could pay premiums and enroll, 123 people enrolled. By the end of the year, it was 36,000. That meant we got 0.3 percent of the people the first month. By that standard, the federal government did great. They got 1.3 percent of the people the first month.

I think that basically, look, it's just too early to say anything useful. The real deadline we have to focus on here is March of next year. That's when the individual mandate kicks in. That's when people need to be signed up and that's what we really saw in Massachusetts was a large rush right before the mandate kicked in.

TAPPER: OK. Good context for us to know. Just for the record, I was saying disappointing because that's what many individuals in the White House have called that number, disappointing. But you dispute that. That's fine.

As Dana Bash just reported, House Republicans are saying, I told you so. I understand that you disagree, but do you think if you compare what happened in Massachusetts with what's happening right now with Obamacare on a national level, is the Web site and enrollment, the opportunity to enroll on the federal level or state level with Obamacare where Romneycare was at this point? Was the problem back then with the Web site, with the ability to enroll, or was something else going on with the disappointing numbers initially in the state of Massachusetts -- Commonwealth, rather, of Massachusetts?

GRUBER: Well, you know, once again, not to pick bones, but I think we didn't think of it as disappointing at the time. We said, look, we have got a year to get this going and we will worry about it at the end of the year.

But the bottom line is, look, I don't think we had big Web site problems. We had low numbers not because the Web site didn't work, but because people said, look, the deadline to sign up is December 31, I will sign up before then. Here, I think people are saying, the deadline is March 31. I will sign up then.

So, I think we all wish the Web site worked better. I think the numbers would be higher if it worked better, but there's really no need to panic. It's just the nature of our political system is to make too big a deal out of these numbers.

TAPPER: With all due respect, Professor Gruber, there are millions of individuals whose plans are being canceled right now because they don't meet the standard, what Obamacare mandates these health care plans offer in terms of mental health coverage, in terms of lab tests, in terms of maternity care, et cetera.

I understand the argument to make these plans better, but millions of Americans are having their plans canceled and they're worried about their ability to get health insurance. Doesn't that add and explain at least some of the panic that some Americans might be feeling?

GRUBER: Oh, absolutely. And I don't want to diminish the panic they're feeling.

And I think that if the Web site is not working, as the government says, by the end of November, so these people can't get in plans by January, then there will have to be some effort by the administration and insurers to give them an extension for a month or two before their plans are canceled to make sure they can get new plans. We don't want to cancel plans on people before the Web site is available to get new ones.

But let's talk about the Web site being available means. It doesn't necessarily mean people can do everything they need to on the Web site. It means they can shop effectively. The important thing for the Web site is for people to be able to comparison-shop across their options.

They can then get on the phone and enroll. So I think the main thing is that, by the end of November, early December, people need to be able to effectively comparison-shop on this Web site. Otherwise, those cancellations for January, they will have to find some way to extend them a month or two until the Web site can be made to work better.

TAPPER: All right, Professor Jonathan Gruber, one of the creators and one of the people who helped form the Americans -- the Affordable Care Act, rather, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

GRUBER: My pleasure. Good to be here.

TAPPER: Coming up, literally, tons of food from around the world has arrived in the Philippines, but hundreds of thousands are still hungry, homeless and searching for loved ones. Our Anderson Cooper will bring us the latest news from a desperate situation. Stay with us.