More than 975,000 Americans signed up this month for health insurance under Obamacare, pushing total enrollment above 1.1 million in 36 states covered by the U.S. healthcare.gov website, the government said today.
The December turnout followed an administration announcement that it fixed software problems that had been causing delays and disruptions for consumers since the Oct. 1 debut of the federal program’s enrollment system. While Americans can still enroll for insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, coverage will now begin in February rather than January.
After Jan. 1, though, the 2010 law guarantees medical coverage to all Americans for the first time, and penalizes those who aren’t insured. The law bars insurers from rejecting consumers who are sick or charging them more, and mandates that health plans cover a standard set of benefits nationwide.
“We experienced a welcome surge in enrollment,” Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which runs the website, said in a statement today.
The administration expects enrollment to “ramp up over time,” Tavenner said, citing the start of the Massachusetts health insurance expansion in 2006 and the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, which began the same year. The sign-up period for the Affordable Care Act ends March 31.
The government didn’t say how many people have paid for their plans, the final step to complete their enrollment. The payment deadline for January coverage is Jan. 10 in most of the country. Tavenner’s report also didn’t include enrollment in 14 states that operate their own enrollment systems.
The law provides U.S. subsidies for low-income consumers and, in some states, broadens the number of people eligible for Medicaid, the government program for the poor. At the same time, some of the 19 million Americans who buy insurance on their own will find the new plans more expensive, with fewer treatment options than before as insurers seek to contain costs.
The website fixes overseen by President Barack Obama’s incoming chief economic adviser, Jeffrey Zients, helped spur interest in healthcare.gov, Tavenner said. On Dec. 23 alone, the healthcare.gov website supported as many as 83,000 users at the same time.
Before Oct. 1, the Obama administration adopted a goal of signing up 7 million people through the new federal and state insurance marketplaces by March 31, the end of the six-month enrollment period.
That target was based on estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.