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29,000 sign up for insurance on improved site

About 29,000 people signed up for health insurance on the federal government’s website during the first two days of December — more than during the whole month of October, a source familiar with the numbers says.

The source, who is familiar with the data but who asks not to be identified, says the numbers are rough but they suggest the site is working far better than during its disastrous first two months after roll-out.

The federal government had promised to vastly improve the website by the end of November. A lot is riding on this: People who want to sign up for coverage that will start by Jan. 1 have just three weeks, until Dec. 23, to get enrolled.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the site, would not confirm the 29,000 number.

“I can tell you that we are on track to officially report enrollment numbers at the middle of the month,” Bataille told reporters on a conference call. “We expect our re-enrollment numbers to increase, given the technical improvements that we have made to the website.”

She said 950,000 people visited the website Tuesday alone, on top of a million people on Monday. More than 310,000 people had visited already by midday Wednesday, she said.

Bataille said the fixes have made it much easier for people to enroll, and CMS unveiled a new feature this week — a reset button that will let people who have unsuccessfully tried to sign up to erase all their data and start over with a fresh profile on the site.

The Health and Human Services Department promises to report by mid-December on how many people have managed to sign up for health insurance on the site so far. In October, just 26,000 managed to sign up using the federal website, which is serving 36 states. Some of the state-run websites have done much better, with more than 75,000 signed up in New York alone. New York is one of the states running its own website.

President Barack Obama has apologized for the website’s poor performance but says he also wants to direct attention to the benefits of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The White House is organizing daily news events to highlight the law’s effects. For instance, new insurance policies can no longer cap someone’s benefits once they start getting expensive, insurers cannot refuse to cover people because of pre-existing conditions, and policies must provide basic coverage such as cancer screenings and mental health care.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had originally projected that 7 million people would buy insurance the first year on the state and federal websites, but those numbers have not been adjusted since the technical troubles slowed enrollment.