By Mary Agnes Carey
Tue, Apr 1 2014
The Obama administration took a victory lap Tuesday as enrollment through the health law’s exchanges topped 7 million, a goal previously thought untouchable when the website healthcare.gov sputtered and crashed as sign-ups began last fall.
In a statement in the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama, said, “The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
But he alluded to continuing political pressure from Republicans and other opponents of the law and acknowledged challenges still remain. Although the law is bringing coverage to millions of Americans, “that doesn’t mean that all the problems in health care are solved forever.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney broke the news of the enrollment tally at his daily press briefing, telling reporters that the last-minute surge of traffic to the website and the call center pushed enrollment to 7,041,000, a figure that does not include sign-ups in the past few days through state-based exchanges. Healthcare.gov is managing enrollment in 36 states, while 14 states and District of Columbia are running their own exchanges.
“What was predicted to be a failure has been a success … despite the fact that we basically lost two months because of the troubles with the website,” Carney said, adding later that “we crossed one milestone here but there are many more to cross in the future.”
Carney said it is still too early to know how many enrollees did not previously have health care coverage or how many have paid their first premium, although the “overwhelming majority” of people pay premiums on time, he said. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday in a television interview that insurance companies estimate that between 80 and 90 percent of enrollees have paid their premiums.
The Congressional Budget Office originally projected that 7 million people would sign up for the exchanges by the end of the enrollment period. After computer problems botched the Oct. 1 rollout, the CBO revised that estimate down to 6 million. Rightly or wrongly, the ability of the law to hit that target had become a bellwether of the law’s success. But there are practical implications as well. The more enrollees there are, the more likely the risk pool will be balanced between sick and healthy individuals. That calculus will be based on enrollments at the state and local levels where premiums are set, say experts.
“Each state is its own insurance market, whether it uses the federal exchange system or not. These state differences could mean that the Obamacare exchanges are viable in some states and regions of the country, while in other states and regions the numbers remain too low to sustain a stable insurance pool,” James C. Capretta, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a column published Tuesday in National Review Online.