SLUGGISH START: Only 26,794 Signed Up For Federal Obamacare Plan - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

SLUGGISH START: Only 26,794 Signed Up For Federal Obamacare Plans, Officials Say

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NBCNEWS.COM - Only 26,000 people managed to buy health insurance on Healthcare.gov in October, the first month the website was open, the Health and Human Services Department said Wednesday.

But more than 106,000 have made it through the process on both the state and federal websites, and most just have a few steps more to make the final purchase, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says. And as many as half a million look like they will have either private health insurance or new Medicaid coverage in 2014.

The federal government has been playing down expectations for how many people will have signed up so far, but the numbers released on Wednesday. The long-awaited figures show that 26,794 people bought health insurance on the federal website, covering 36 states. Another 79,391 bought policies on state-run websites.

"Enrollment includes those who have selected a plan who either have or have not yet paid the first month's premium," HHS said.

HealthCare.gov, the centerpiece of health reform efforts under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, fell apart as soon as it went live on Oct. 1. It's supposed to be a seamless, online system to allow people to comparison shop for health insurance policies, checking right away to see if they qualify for a generous federal government subsidy to buy a plan.

Several different approved government contractors put together parts of the system and when it went online, the parts didn't work together. The result: Hardly anyone managed to sign up, critics said "I told you so" and Congress has launched several investigations into what went wrong.

The administration has agreed over and over that the site is unacceptably flawed. Asked whether it would be working as promised on November 30, White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said not to expect a flawless performance. "The goal that has been laid out is not for the site to be perfect by Nov. 30," Park told a House Oversight Committee hearing earlier on Wednesday. . It should, however, work smoothly for the "vast majority" of users.

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