The White House had long predicted this growth in the number of people gaining new insurance via the services provided by the controversial new law, and this good news comes as a welcome boost in the wake of declining public opinion on the President’s signature policy achievement. The poorly understood legislation has been demonized by President Obama’s political opponents in the Republican party, and the disastrous rollout of the new HealthCare.gov web site was previously seen by many as validating the GOP’s rhetoric. As a result, today’s new numbers, released Monday in a new reportby the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are a much needed positive sign for the highly maligned initiative.
With 2.2 million Americans enrolling in private health coverage via Obamacare, including a massive surge of 1.8 million who signed up in the month of December alone, the law is much closer to its stated goals than most on either side would have predicted after the program’s difficult start in October.
The report from Health and Human Services uses state-by-state to determine total enrollment. Even the beleagured HealthCare.gov soared, with 1.2 million specific enrollments through the website by the end of the year, up from only 137,000 enrollments before December 1st.
Almost since its inception, the President’s push to insure those without healthcare has been met with criticism. Republicans warned that the law wouldn’t work, that it would destroy the American economy, and that it would lead to what they called “rationed” care, in which overwhelming numbers of newly insured citizens would cause shortages of health treatment to those who needed. This Orwellian scenario was similar to the way in which private insurance companies already ration care, but Obamacare opponents said this care-rationing would be far more serious and damaging. Many Tea Party candidates and other officials in Conservative districts cruised to election in 2010 and 2012 based on promises to repeal or defund the law. GOP concerns about Obamacare led the most Conservative members of that party in the House of Representatives to shutdown the federal government entirely in late 2013, ostensibly just to gain leverage in stopping the law.
The December surge in Obamacare enrollment to 2.2 million is expected to aid the Obama administration in defending itself from attacks on the much-debated law from both the Right and the Left.
“These enrollment figures are encouraging for this stage in the process, especially with all the early systems problems they experienced,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice-president for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The increase in enrollment was attributed to the impending deadline and to improvements in the initially bug-ridden HealthCare.gov site. At the end of November, the Obama administration had declared the website fixed, but proof did not come until this report. A decline in error rates and a quickening in response times were both in effect by December 1st, and the report showed that the effect was a drastic increase in American citizens enrolling in private health insurance.
“In terms of total enrollment, 2.2 million is a relatively strong turn-out given massive IT challenges in October and November,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president of independent consulting firm Avalere Health, in a conversation with Talking Points Memo.
The demographics of the enrollment show younger Americans are a sizeable portion of those gaining insurance, with 30% of enrollees being 34 or younger, and almost a quarter of those who gained insurance in 2013 between the ages of 18 and 24.
“Americans are finding quality affordable coverage in the marketplace, and best of all, because coverage began on New Year’s Day, the promise and hope of the Affordable Care Act is now a reality,” Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “Our outreach efforts have ramped up, so whether it’s through public service announcements, events, our champions or other means, we are doing all we can to find, inform and enroll those who can benefit from the Marketplace.”
The administration’s initial estimate was that there would by 7 million enrollees by the end of March 2014, with 3.3 million of those in the last three months of 2013. After HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, appeared to fail disastrously with a bug-filled October launch, even approaching those goals looked unlikely. The botched rollout certainly kept the administration under its 3.3 million 2013 goal, due to the highly underwhelming numbers in October and November. However, making nearly two-thirds of the 2013 projection in just one month shows that the Affordable Care Act is nearly back on track. At that rate, the original goal of 7 million newly insured Americans by the end of March 2014 is once again possible.
States had the option of operating their own online health insurance exchanges or using the federal government’s site. Only 14 states opted for their own sites, but prior to December, these states were processing more enrollments than all 36 states using HealthCare.gov. By the end of the year, however, this had flipped, with 1.2 million enrolling in HealthCare.gov versus 1 million via state exchanges.
The White House was also quick to note that three more months remain for enrollment under the law, giving them a real chance of meeting their goal. “We’re at halftime in the open enrollment process,” the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation’s Levitt said.
With enrollment having surged to 2.2 million so quickly in just a month, and 2014 enrollments likely to continue at something like the December rate, it is likely both sides of the Obamacare debate will be trying different talking points in the new year.
By: Jeremy Forbing