Enrollment in the federal government's new health insurance exchange picked up sharply in November, but the number of people signing up for coverage still trails original forecasts. Officials from the Obama administration say they expect the pace of enrollments will continue to increase, now that the insurance website is working more smoothly.
Users have until Dec. 23 to sign up for coverage that begins in January.
As of Nov. 30, more than 137,000 people had obtained health insurance through the federal website, which serves consumers in 36 states. Another 227,000 got coverage through exchanges run by the other 14 states and the District of Columbia. The numbers suggest a fourfold increase in November enrollments on the federal website, compared to October, when the site was barely functioning. The pace of enrollment on the state sites roughly doubled.
Traffic on the insurance exchanges has continued to grow, after technical fixes were made to the website during the month of November. In the first two days of this week, more than 800,000 people visited the federal website.
"The HealthCare.gov website is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1," says Michael Hash, who directs the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services. "The majority of users are now able to move smoothly through the application process, and it's now easier than ever to shop for and compare plans and to enroll in coverage."
The early technical problems have taken a toll, though. The administration originally hoped to have 500,000 people enrolling in coverage in October alone. As it is, there were only about 365,000 enrolled by the end of November.
What's more, there are continuing problems with the website's "back-end," which is supposed to share enrollment information with insurance companies. As recently as last week, one in 10 enrollment notices contained an error.
Despite those problems, Hash says the administration is "on track" to meet its target of signing up 7 million insurance customers by the end of March, when the enrollment period ends.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is sure to be asked about the enrollment challenges when she testifies Wednesday before a House subcommittee.
Good morning, here are our early stories:
And here are our early headlines:
Deaf Interpreter At Mandela Service Was A "Fake". (Mail and Guardian)
NTSB Opens Hearing On July Plane Crash In San Francisco. (Businessweek)
Pro-Government Protesters In Thailand Set To Take Bangkok Streets. (Reuters)
Ukrainian Police Back Off From Protests In Kiev Square. (New York Times)
Biden Announces Millions Of Federal Dollars For Mental Health Treatment. (Washington Post)
Clark Wins Special Mass. Congressional Election For Markey Seat. (Politico)
Millions Of Children Lack Birth Certificates Worldwide. (UNICEF)
"For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world's largest faith to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is Time's 2013 Person of the Year."
The magazine adds that:
"What makes this pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), 'the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed.' In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church—the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world—above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were professors of theology. Francis is a former janitor, nightclub bouncer, chemical technician and literature teacher."
Meanwhile, Time says this year's runner-up is "NSA leaker" Edward Snowden. He tells the magazine, in an interview done from Russia via emails, that the National Security Agency "is surely not the Stasi" (East Germany's once-feared security service).
"But we should always remember that the danger to societies from security services is not that they will spontaneously decide to embrace mustache twirling and jackboots to bear us bodily into dark places, but that the slowly shifting foundation of policy will make it such that mustaches and jackboots are discovered to prove an operational advantage toward a necessary purpose," Snowden says.
Others Time considered:
— Edith Windsor, whose battle to have the rights of same-sex partners be recognized went all the way to the Supreme Court.
— Syrian President Bashar Assad.
— Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Francis became pope in March. He succeeded Pope Benedict XVI, who was the first leader of the Catholic Church in about 600 years to retire rather than serve until his death. Pope Francis turns 77 next Tuesday (Dec. 17).
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