With all the technical problems that have bedeviled the launch of the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov, the Obama administration and proponents of the Affordable Care Act repeatedly have reminded critics and impatient consumers that massive, new federal entitlement programs are -- and always have been -- prone to fitful starts.
As a historical benchmark, Democrats and others have pointed to the rocky roll out of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, in January 2006.
The Health Watch looked into this claim, and found several sources that largely support the comparison -- though it's crucial to point out that there are important differences between Medicare Part D and the Affordable Care Act that make the challenges facing healthcare.gov and the state-based exchanges different.
For starters, Medicare Part D was aimed at seniors, and the government's website for the program, Medicare.gov, was never intended to be the main hub for people to purchase and review plan information.
Another important difference is that Medicare beneficiaries already had health insurance, and were only looking to add prescription drug coverage -- not as complicated as shopping for an insurance plan.
That said, a healthcare industry research and consulting firm looked into the parallels between the launch of Medicare Part D and the roll out of healthcare.gov, and found that enrollment applications filed through healthcare.gov during the first month outpaced Part D enrollment patterns.
Avalere Health found that the number of applications submitted as of Oct. 25 through healthcare.gov exceeded comparable enrollment in Part D over the same time period during each program's launch.
Avalere's analysis found that two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries who voluntarily enrolled in a Part D plan during the initial enrollment period signed up after coverage began on Jan. 1, 2006.
About 22 percent of Part D enrollees signed up in the final month of the open enrollment period, suggesting that nearly 1.6 million Americans could wait until March to enroll in a health plan through healthcare.gov and the state-based exchanges.
The charts below show enrollment numbers for the 15 state-based exchanges (enrollment numbers will be released this week for the federally-facilitated exchange at healthcare.gov) and the projected enrollment pattern for the Health Insurance Marketplace based on the Part D experience.
Avalere's analysis can be found here.