Consumer response to $1 billion Obamacare ad campaign is still underwhelming

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When we reported October 3 that website traffic to the government’s $1 billion  Obamacare advertising campaign had been grossly exaggerated and that actual enrollments were anemic, it turns out we didn’t know the half of it. From Washington, DC, to London, UK, media are crunching the numbers and coming up with a dismal picture of overstated claims and underwhelming results.

Overstated traffic stats

Quoting giddily enthusiastic federal figures, WPRO Radio reported at 8:50 AM Eastern time, October 4, that

More than seven million Americans have gone online since Tuesday to browse the Obamacare health insurance exchanges, prompting administrators to add servers and engineers to handle the Web traffic.

Another 295,000 people used federal health insurance exchange call centers and 167,000 have requested live Web chats, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman Richard Olague.

But while seven  million visitors to the one federal government website that hasn’t been shut down may sound impressive – it is, after all, about seven-eighths of New York City’s population  – in a nation of 313,900,000 that’s not so hot.

Nor, as Jim Geraghty notes on his October 4 Campaign Spot blog, is it a big deal in terms of web traffic.

Seven million hits sounds like a lot . . . Until you realize the Drudge Report gets 37 million or so a day. In 1997, Altavista (remember that search site?) was getting 80 million hits per day. Google averages — averages ––5 BILLION searches per day. (emphasis added)

Underwhelming results

The other side of the Atlantic, Britain’s Daily Mail took on a job Americans won’t do, actually calculated the closing rates (i.e., the percentage of responses that turn into enrollments) and headlined that “Less than 1% of visitors are signing up for Obamacare on state health exchange websites.”

U.S. political editor David Martosko, who did the calculations, described the results as “paltry.” Specifically:

California, the ultimate blue state whose federal lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in support of Obamacare, turned less than 1 per cent of its Web visits into ‘Covered California’ participants on Tuesday.

“We had over 5.7 million hits to our website as of 3 p.m. yesterday,” Covered California spokeswoman Kelsey Caldwell told MailOnline Wednsday.

“7,700 consumers began their application process yesterday. … 4,143 applications are pending,’ she added.

Caldwell couldn’t say how many of the 5.7 million website hits were from unique Californians. But assuming 712,500 online visitors saw eight different Web pages each, the sign-up rate was 0.58 per cent.

Connecticut saw a similarly low rate of interest. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes tweeted after 8:30 PM Monday that his state’s health exchange had “received 28k visitors, and took 167 applications for health insurance. Day 1.”

That indicates just 0.59 per cent of Connecticut residents who sought information about their state’s Obamacare program on Monday decided to become part of it, according to Access Health CT spokeswoman Kathleen Tallarita.

Doing the same calculation for the two-day figures Himes tweeted on Tuesday, October 2, we came up with 0.4 percent.

New York Department of Health executive director Donna Frescato said in a statement that “more than 12,000 business owners and individuals from across the state have shopped online for low-cost health insurance plans … and the site has received nearly 30 million web visits.”

A spokesman didn’t respond to a request for clarification about whether those 12,000 people completed applications for health coverage. If they did, and if each ‘web visit’ corresponded to a New Yorker who saw 8 pages, the state’s enrollment rate would be the lowest of all – 0.32 per cent.

Some states, though, have managed to outperform California and Connecticut, with enrollment rates rising all the way to single digits.

  • In Illinois, 1.7 percent of visitors filed applications.
  • Rhode Island did better, with all of 2.3 percent.
  • Kentucky reported doing twice as well, with completed applications from 5.3 percent – by default, the highest closing rate in the nation.
  • Vermont‘s participation rate is no more than 6 per cent, although that number may be deceiving,” Matrosko explains. “Emily Yahr, a public information officer with Vermont Health Connect, told MailOnline that her state exchange’s website had served ‘about 20,300 unique visit[or]s,’ resulting in ‘just over 1,230 user accounts established.’ But she couldn’t say how many people submitted completed applications.”
  • In “Washington, D.C. government spokesperson Richard Sorian said Wednesday that 15,452 unique visitors had seen his agency’s DC Health Link website, and that new accounts were created for 4,171 individuals and families, and 136 small businesses – a rate of nearly 28 per cent. He, too, offered no numbers showing how many of those users applied for health insurance after they created accounts.
    But Sorian did suggest that number was not as impressive.”
  • Minnestoa‘s MNSure was unsure, claiming it had “‘no enrollment numbers yet.’ But spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said the state’s insurance exchange website was seeing an average of 50,000 hits on its website every hour since it launched – a 24-hour average of 1.2 million – from Minnesotans. Just 2,500 new accounts resulted. At an estimated 8 pages per visitor, that’s an account-creation rate of less than 1.7 per cent. The number of actual applications would have been lower still.”
  • New Mexico reported that “292 businesses had enrolled in its coverage plans but wouldn’t say how many individual taxpayers are taking part. ‘We don’t have any of those numbers yet,’ said [health insurance exchange] spokeswoman Annie Holschuh.”
  • In Tennessee, where one Chad Henderson achieved instant fame for being the first, and possibly only, person in the entire state to actually buy an Obamacare policy through the federal exchange, well, Mediaite discovered from his LinkedIn page that he was an Organizing for America volunteer. This is the organization that, Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey posts, “spent the last year stuffing e-mail inboxes with an avalanche of missives about just how easy and wonderful ObamaCare would be.”
  • Figuring that discretion was the better part of valor, Maryland, Oregon, Colorado, Idaho and Hawaii followed the federal government’s example and refused to disclose signup statistics. If those had been good, we can be sure they’d be crowing about them.

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