White House: Obamacare sign-ups hit 6 million
The number of people enrolled in the health care exchanges surpassed the revised CBO estimate.
This post comes from Louise Radnofsky and Colleen McCain Nelson at partner site The Wall Street Journal.
The White House said the Affordable Care Act crossed a key threshold as it announced Thursday that more than six million people have signed up for private health coverage through state and federal insurance exchanges.
The number, released days before the Monday deadline for most people to enroll for this year, surpasses the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's revised estimate that six million people would enroll in private health plans for 2014 -- down from its initial forecast of seven million.
But left unclear was how many of those signing up had been uninsured -- a key aim of the law -- and whether they include many of the young and mostly healthy Americans needed to keep costs in check, and whether those signing up have actually paid premiums to bring the insurance coverage into effect.
Supporters of the law called the enrollment total a milestone that shows the Affordable Care Act had turned the corner after its disastrous rollout. The federal HealthCare.gov exchange had such crippling technological problems that on the first day of enrollment in October, only six people completed applications for insurance, according to internal federal health-agency documents.
"Signing up more than 6 million Americans is the latest indication that the health law is working," said Tara McGuinness, a White House senior communications adviser.
Opponents of the law said the figure had little meaning given the lack of detail so far on the makeup of the enrollees. "I think those numbers are a fantasy," said Rep. Michael Burgess, (R., Texas). "How many of these people previously had insurance?"
The administration has referred questions about how many people have paid their first month's premiums, the final step in enrolling, to insurers, who generally have declined to give firm numbers. Federal officials also have said they don't know how many had gained coverage after being previously uninsured, though they have pointed to other surveys that suggest a majority were previously insured.
Firm numbers also aren't yet available for how many additional people have enrolled in Medicaid as a result of the expansion of eligibility for the program in 25 states, though supporters of the law have said they are in the millions.
The White House, in a statement, described consumer interest in insurance coverage as "surging" in the final days of open enrollment. It said the site was visited 1.5 million times on Wednesday and the call center received 430,000 phone inquiries. Officials emphasized that more work remained before they'd consider the enrollment period a success.
The goal of President Barack Obama's 2010 Affordable Care Act was to create a system of near-universal insurance for Americans using online exchanges where policies would be sold without regard to people's medical histories.
But during HealthCare.gov's first few weeks in operation, it malfunctioned so badly that enrollment remained at a trickle. Big insurance companies pulled back on advertising because they didn't want to send shoppers to a broken site. The White House also tapped the brakes on its enrollment effort, and Mr. Obama established a "war room" to fix the exchange.
Technicians made significant improvements to the site before a Dec. 1 deadline and by year's end, 2.1 million people had signed up for policies, though the site has continued to malfunction periodically.
The White House began to implement the full complement of its outreach efforts in January. That included a 25-city "layered" plan targeting dense populations of the uninsured with media interviews by administration officials and enrollment fairs by outside groups.
It wasn't until mid-February that the White House began to see the impact of that effort, and enrollment started picking up in March. "We felt like we were making a difference," a senior administration official said.
In the last few weeks, this official said, the administration believes its attempt to use new media also helped attract young people. Particularly effective were an Obama appearance on Zach Galifianakis's spoof talk show "Between Two Ferns," an event at the White House with YouTube personalities and a commercial featuring NBA star LeBron James, this official said.
Exchanges, health insurers and health-care providers all stepped up marketing efforts in recent weeks. AltaMed Health Services Corp., a nonprofit with more than 40 clinics in southern California serving largely Hispanic patients, is operating two enrollment centers and has been running ads on radio and elsewhere. Its weekly call volume mounted to around 1,700 last week, then shot up to around 2,000 each day on Monday and Tuesday, said Cástulo de la Rocha, AltaMed's chief executive. "The rush is huge," he said, and he expects it to grow in the final days.
The site appears to have been able to withstand the technical strain placed upon it this week. On Monday and Tuesday, HealthCare.gov processed more than 100,000 enrollments each day, said one person familiar with its performance. The site was also averaging about 40,000 simultaneous users, up from about 20,000 users two weeks ago, said the person.
But the administration also this week prepared for the possibility of technical problems as applicants flock to the site before Monday's deadline. It said that people who are "in line" on Monday will be allowed to finish their applications after the deadline has passed.
As late as this week, there were three million people in the system who had started but not completed applications, according to federal data. HealthCare.gov has also begun sending about two million email reminders of the deadline every two days to people who have begun an application but haven't picked a plan.
Vincent Garcia, age 24, chose a SelectHealth plan earlier this week that would cost him $24 a month, after federal subsidies. Mr. Garcia, a Salt Lake City urinalysis technician, hasn't had insurance in four years.
Up until a week and a half ago, he was aware of the law from radio and newspaper stories, but not particularly interested. But then he picked up a bad cough last week and decided to apply for coverage through a local broker, Insurance 2.0.
"I would have avoided it but for the fact that there are penalties for not having insurance, and I came to the conscious awareness that I should get insurance," he said.
-- Carol E. Lee, Jennifer Corbett Dooren, Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews contributed to this article.
More from The Wall Street Journal
1. Still in the hole for the 7 million that lost their insurance.
2. After all the other lies, can you believe anything that comes out of the White House regarding Obamacare?
When the total hit 4 million they said 87% qualified for a subsidy. Notice they didn't give that percentage this time. Assuming it is still 87% that equals to 5,220,000 leaving 780,000. So my questions:
1) What exactly is the percentage?
2) What are the demographics of those signed up?
3) How many have actually paid their first premium payment?
4) How many were previously uninsured and how many were canceled?
5) What are their deductibles and co-pays?
6) When the 780,000 cannot generate enough revenue to cover the premiums of the 5,220,000 who will pay the difference?
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