BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Fewer than 400 Louisiana residents were able to sign up for health insurance last month through the federally run online marketplace created under President Barack Obama's health revamp, according to data released Wednesday.
Website problems left many people unable to enroll for coverage despite repeated attempts.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released enrollment figures for October, showing fewer than 27,000 people had completed the full process to get coverage across the 36 states using the federal website.
In Louisiana, the number was 387.
"Things have not picked up that much since October on the exchange. We're pretty disappointed in the performance of the federally-facilitated marketplace," said John Maginnis, spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, which is offering plans on the website.
Applications seeking coverage for more than 14,100 people in Louisiana have been filed. About 13,600 of those have been deemed eligible for insurance through the marketplace, but they haven't yet decided if they'll buy a coverage plan, according to the federal data.
Republican members of Louisiana's congressional delegation seized on the dismal numbers, saying they provide proof that Democrats in Congress and the White House need to reverse course on the federal health overhaul called the Affordable Care Act.
"Americans knew Obamacare was not ready for prime time, and these terribly low enrollment numbers prove it," said U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, called the website rollout a failure and a "demonstration of what bureaucrat-run health care looks like."
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a staunch supporter of the federal health law, defended it Wednesday, noting that people have more than four months remaining to sign up for coverage.
"The website isn't working how it should, which is unacceptable, and it needs to be fixed as quickly as possible," Landrieu said in a statement. "But the promise and hope of the Affordable Care Act, that for the first time middle and working class families will be able to have access to affordable, quality health care that is there when they need it most, is worth fighting for."
The head of the Louisiana Democratic Party, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, also said she remains confident in the law, calling it desperately needed in a state with high numbers of uninsured.
"Once the website glitches are worked out, we expect the enrollment numbers to grow," Peterson said in a statement.
The marketplace offers health insurance options for people who are uninsured or who currently pay for individual policies, rather than getting insurance through their jobs.
The federal government is handling the online marketplace for Louisiana because Gov. Bobby Jindal, an opponent of the health law, refused to let the state create its own website.
Enrollment opened on Oct. 1, and people have until March 31 to sign up.
Federal subsidies are available to many low- and middle-income families to help cover costs, with 344,000 Louisiana residents estimated to be eligible for the assistance. At the same time, most people need to have insurance by mid-February or face fines.
Two companies are offering insurance plans on the marketplace throughout Louisiana: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and the Louisiana Health Cooperative. Vantage Health Plan is offering coverage for most parishes.
Blue Cross offers the largest number of coverage options to state residents through the federal marketplace. Maginnis said most of the 387 successful enrollees in Louisiana were getting insurance through Blue Cross.
"We wish it were a bigger number," he said.