Gary Cohen, CCIIO director (AP Photo/Brookings Institution, Paul Morigi)

How fast will the public exchanges start off?

Maybe a little slowly.

Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, gave that assessment Thursday at a House Energy & Commerce oversight subcommittee hearing.

Cohen spent most of the hearing defending the exchange enrollment program against charges that the enrollers could go door to door to pressure people into enrolling in the exchange program, or, in some cases, to steal people’s identities. 

But he also talked about other PPACA implementation issues.

One topic he addressed is whether the exchanges will actually open their doors by the Oct. 1 startup deadline (they will, he said), and another is how quickly the marketplaces will attract participants.

Wall Street analysts and an Associated Press reporter have been trying to improve on Congressional Budget Office (CBO) public exchange enrollment projections.

The CBO estimated that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exchanges could attract 7 million consumers in 2014.

The AP reporter, Kelli Kennedy, says the states’ own enrollment projections suggest that the actual number could be much higher. Some analysts think the number could be closer to 4 million.

Cohen did not give a specific number, but he noted at the hearing that the coverage sold from Oct. 1 through Dec. 15 won’t take effect until the beginning of the new year.

“We don’t anticipate a huge amount of enrollment in October,” Cohen said.

Other benchmarks observers can use to track how well the exchanges are doing are exchange call center response times and exchange website performance measures, Cohen said. 

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