By Stephen Collinson, AFP
WASHINGTON — Only 106,000 people enrolled in the new U.S. health plan in its first month and only a quarter did so on a faulty government website, in early failures for President Barack Obama’s top domestic achievement. Government figures published Wednesday were the first official snapshot of the progress of Obamacare which has been plagued by glitches since it debuted on Oct. 1. The data fueled fresh and fiery debate in Washington over the new law, with Republicans saying it proved the reform — the closest America has ever got to universal health coverage — was a failure and should be scrapped. The figure of 106,185 registrations represents only 1.5 percent of the targeted total sign-up for the plan by the end of the enrollment period at the end of March, the Health and Human Services Department said. Officials had targeted an initial enrollment of around half a million people in the first month — but it is clear the badly flawed federal government website is inflicting serious damage on the law’s high stakes rollout. “We can reasonably expect these numbers will grow substantially over the next five months,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The site, Healthcare.gov, is “getting better, it is getting better every day,” she added. Nearly 80,000 people who signed up did so through online health insurance exchanges set up in 14 states and Washington D.C. Only 26,794 people enrolled through the faulty federal website, which is expected to handle most enrollments and those from states that are not setting up their own exchanges, the figures showed. The White House says technical experts are working around the clock to fix the website, following complaints that it freezes users out, logs them off or is simply impossible to navigate. Enrollment was always expected to be slow in the first month of Obamacare as customers shopped around for plans and lacked urgency given the final deadline for signing up is at the end of March.