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About 7,200 Wis. residents selected health plans

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SCOTT BAUER | December 10, 2013 03:46 PM EST | AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Around 7,200 people in Wisconsin have purchased health insurance through the federal website, eight times are many who had signed up through October, the deputy state insurance commissioner said Tuesday.

The numbers through Monday show that it has been easier for people to access the site,, which was beset with problems when it first opened in October. That first month, fewer than 900 Wisconsin residents purchased insurance through the site.

President Barack Obama promised that most of the problems were fixed by the end of November, and the dramatic surge in enrollments in Wisconsin indicates that more people are finding it easier to sign up. Those working with enrolling people in Wisconsin also have been reporting that it's been easier to use the website this month.

"Obviously more folks are getting in," said Dan Schwartzer, deputy Wisconsin insurance commissioner, at a panel discussion about the health care law. "We're delighted to see more folks getting in. ... It looks like it's improving."

The federal government is expected to release its own updated enrollment figures for all 50 states sometime this month.

Kathleen Falk, a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said more than 400 bugs have been fixed and the site works 92 percent of the time.

"It's not perfect yet, improvements continue to be made, that is an ongoing process," Falk said.

Problems with the site led Republican Gov. Scott Walker, one of the most vocal critics of the federal health care overhaul law, to ask the Legislature to delay for three months kicking 72,000 people out of Medicaid and into the private market. The proposal doing that has passed the Assembly and is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate on Dec. 19.

Walker's budget, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature this past summer, lowered Medicaid eligibility from those earning 200 percent of poverty to those making less than 100 percent, which is $11,490 for an individual or $23,550 for a family of four.

The move was part of Walker's plan that embraced parts of the federal overhaul law while also rejecting federal money to pay for Medicaid for those who make up to 138 percent of poverty.

Democrats and health care advocates said Walker was wrong to reject that money and continue to call on him to accept it. Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow counties to take the federal money directly, sidestepping Walker and the Legislature. Eighteen counties have passed resolutions in support.

While Republicans who control the Legislature aren't likely to give the idea serious consideration, Sargent said it was important to press the issue and stress that Wisconsin can accept the federal money at any point.

Walker's argument for not taking the money last year, which his spokesman Tom Evenson repeated Tuesday in reaction to Sargent's bill, was that the federal government can't be counted on to follow through with its promises.

"Governor Walker did not want to expose Wisconsin taxpayers to the burden that will come due when the federal government decides to break its promise to help fund Medicaid," Evenson said.

Walker said his goal was to cut Wisconsin's uninsured rate in half, meaning about 225,000 people will have to purchase coverage.

"We are still focused on meeting the objective of cutting the uninsured rate in half," said Kevin Moore, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, at the panel sponsored by Wisconsin Health News.

The three-month delay proposed by Walker, giving those losing Medicaid coverage more time to sign up through the exchange, will give the state and others more time to work with that population to make sure they purchase private plans, Moore said.

"For us, the biggest concern is inaction," Moore said.