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Are Low Early Enrollment Nos. A Repeat Of Mass. Experience?

News outlets are all over this story today:

Documents released by a congressional committee reveal just how few people successfully enrolled in health insurance plans on the troubled HealthCare.gov website in early days after its Oct. 1 launch. (That summary is courtesy of our colleagues on the NPR Newscast Desk.)

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's data — from notes taken during "war room" meetings at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance — are posted here.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a frequent critic of the Obama administration. The figures cited — which have generated headlines such as "Obamacare Saw 248 Enrollments in First Two Days" — were not disputed by White House press secretary Jay Carney when he was asked about them Friday on CNN.

Carney said on the network's New Day that "by definition, when you have a website that isn't functioning well you're going to have problems. ... We've owned up to that."

Carney went on to say that one month after the launch of Massachusetts' similar health care program in 2006, just 123 people had enrolled for "premium paying plans." But "in the end they had massive enrollment" in the commonwealth, he said.

That comparison to the early days of the Massachusetts experience has been made by both the president and his top aides before. Friday morning, The Fact Checker at The Washington Post gave the administration "one pinocchio" (for "some shading of the facts) for "highlighting a not very relevant figure."

The Obama team, according to the Fact Checker, is pointing to just one phase of the Massachusetts program's sign-up period.

"The president would have been on firmer ground if he had said that in the first quarter of the Massachusetts plan enrollment, only about one-sixth of the total enrollees had signed up for the plan," says the Fact Checker. "That would have placed the numbers in proper context."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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