Obamacare Sign-Ups Top Last Year's Total in Boost to Health Law

8.3 Million People Signed Up for Obamacare This Year
  • Almost 8.3 million people signed up for health insurance
  • Enrollment includes 38 states using federal shopping system

About 8.3 million people have signed up for health coverage through Obamacare’s U.S.-run shopping markets this year, the U.S. said Tuesday, surpassing last year’s total and signaling good news for hospital and health insurance companies.

At about the same point in the enrollment period last year, 6.4 million people had signed up. The U.S. report counts enrollees for 2016 coverage as of Dec. 19 in 38 states that use the Affordable Care Act’s federal marketplace, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. It’s the most comprehensive accounting since a Dec. 17 deadline for people to pick coverage that begins at the start of 2016.

Sign-ups this year are an important indication of how President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul is faring ahead of the 2016 presidential election. They’re also a bellwether for hospital and health insurance stocks -- investors are closely tracking the figures to see how many new paying customers those businesses can expect.

If the pace of sign-ups continues like it did last year, 10.7 million people could have coverage through the U.S.-run market alone by the time the enrollment period ends, Jason McGorman, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said in a note Tuesday.

It would also be welcome news for investors, who had been concerned that enrollment for 2016 would lag. Those worries contributed to a slump this year in hospital chains such as Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Community Health Systems Inc.

The U.S. has said that about 9.9 million people will probably be enrolled in Obamacare plans by the end of 2016, compared with a projected 9.1 million at the close of 2015.

Some enrollees typically stop paying for their health plans throughout the year. The U.S. said Tuesday that about 9.3 million people were enrolled in 2015 Obamacare plans as of Sept. 30, with 84 percent receiving subsidies to help them pay for the coverage. That’s down from a total of 9.9 million on June 30.

While sign-ups for 2016 coverage are running ahead of last year’s total, the figures aren’t directly comparable. Last year’s sign-up period began two weeks later, and an additional state, Hawaii, is using the federal exchange this year.

The 2016 enrollment figure updates a tally from last week, when the U.S. said that about 6 million people had signed up for individual health plans as of the Dec. 17 deadline, compared with 3.4 million in 2014. Those figures didn’t include people whose coverage was automatically renewed, who are in the new total.

The new total will continue to grow. People can still sign up for coverage that begins later in the year, and the data don’t include enrollment from states like New York and California, which run their own health-insurance marketplaces.

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