Obamacare Signed Up 11.4 Million for Year Two, U.S. Says

About 11.4 million people signed up for Obamacare or renewed their coverage for 2015, raising the possibility that enrollment may surpass the administration’s goal in the second year of the program.

Enrollment closed Feb. 15 for coverage through health plans offered on the marketplace created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. People signing up for insurance must pay their first premium to complete enrollment and gain coverage. The Obama administration hopes to have at least 9.1 million people paying for coverage bought through government-run marketplaces this year.

“It gives you some sense of how hungry people were out there for affordable, accessible health insurance,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday in a video on Facebook with Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the U.S. health secretary, announcing the enrollment figure. “The Affordable Care Act is working. It’s working a little better than we anticipated; certainly a lot better than many of the critics talked about early on.”

Now, the Obama administration’s attention is turning toward people filing their taxes who may learn they owe a fine for not carrying insurance last year. Burwell said Feb. 13 that the government is considering whether to allow people to sign up for Affordable Care Act plans after filing their taxes.

Consumer advocates and tax preparers have pushed for the extra enrollment period, arguing that many Americans won’t become aware of the fine until they have to pay it. Eleven Democrats in the Senate and three in the House have written Burwell to urge her to create a new enrollment period.

State Enrollments

Of the 11.4 million, about 8.2 million people have signed up using the federal government’s online system. Many of those people could be affected by a lawsuit challenging the validity of subsidies the U.S. provides to help people buy coverage.

A verdict against the Obama administration would largely unravel the law in as many as 37 states that don’t operate their own health insurance marketplaces. The Supreme Court will hear the case this year.

The Supreme Court case turns on a four-word phrase in the Affordable Care Act. The law says people qualify for tax credits to help pay insurance premiums when they buy a plan on an exchange “established by the state.”

Democrats who wrote the law say it was never their intent to keep people in federally run exchanges from getting subsidies.

Extending Sign-Ups

Washington state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace, called the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, announced Feb. 16 that tax filers would have until April 17 to sign up. Peter Lee, the executive director of California’s marketplace, Covered California, said today in a conference call with reporters that his agency is also considering an extra enrollment period.

“We saw thousands of cases of consumers who literally walked across the street from the tax adviser, because they discovered they had a penalty, to then enroll,” Lee said. “We think this is something we need to look at closely.”

People who didn’t have health insurance last year may owe fines of as much as 1 percent of their income, under the Affordable Care Act. The fine doubles this year, to as much as 2 percent of income.

The Treasury Department has estimated that as many as 6 million people may pay the penalty, though there are many exemptions, including homelessness, a death in the family or any unspecified “hardship in obtaining health insurance.”

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