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Obama health target: 500,000 signups by Oct. 31

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius discusses the federal health care overhaul during a panel discussion at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. For the first month alone, the Obama administration projected that nearly a half million people world sign up for the new health insurance markets, according to an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press. But that was before the markets opened to a cascade of computer problems. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius discusses the federal health care overhaul during a panel discussion at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. For the first month alone, the Obama administration projected that nearly a half million people world sign up for the new health insurance markets, according to an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press. But that was before the markets opened to a cascade of computer problems. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

For the first month alone, the Obama administration projected that nearly a half-million people would sign up for the new health insurance markets, according to an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press. But that was before the markets opened to a cascade of computer problems.

If the glitches persist and frustrated consumers give up trying, that initial goal, described as modest in the memo, could slip out of reach.

The Sept. 5 memo, for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, lists monthly enrollment targets for each state and Washington, D.C., through March 31, 2014, the last day of the initial open enrollment period under President Obama’s health care overhaul.

The new online insurance markets are supposed to be the portals to coverage for most of the nation’s nearly 50 million uninsured people. Middle-class people without job-based coverage can shop for subsidized private plans, while low-income people are steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that safety net program.

Although the Oct. 1 launch of the markets was a top priority for the White House, the rollout was quickly overwhelmed by computer problems, and many potential customers still have not been able to enroll. Insurers said signups are coming through, but slowly.

A surge of interest by consumers going online appeared to trigger the problems, which also seem to involve underlying software flaws and design shortcomings undetected or overlooked in testing. The administration is holding the explanation close, while working feverishly to fix the glitches – with incomplete results so far.

In the memo, officials estimated that 494,620 people would sign up for health insurance under the program by Oct. 31. And that was portrayed as a slow start.

“We expect enrollment in the initial months to be low,” said the memo, entitled “Projected Monthly Enrollment Targets for Health Insurance Marketplaces in 2014.”

By the end of March, total enrollment through the markets was expected to surpass 7 million, an estimate originally from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and then used by the administration as the foundation for its projections.

With 15 days to go this month, the Obama administration has not released any enrollment numbers for the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead in running the markets.

The 14 states running their own markets, along with Washington, D.C., have released some data. But it’s hard to discern a clear pattern, since the reporting dates are different from state to state.

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