Obamacare Sign-ups Rise to 6 Million After Deadline Extended

  • Total Includes Only 38 States Using Federal Insurance Exchange
  • Burwell Estimated 10 Million Will Be Covered by End of 2016

About 6 million people signed up for health coverage that will take effect on Jan. 1 under the Affordable Care Act in states using the federal marketplace, the U.S. said Friday.

That’s up from about 3.4 million people who had decided to sign up for ACA coverage through the federal system at about the same time last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said on a conference call. It’s difficult to compare the enrollment periods directly because sign-ups for the ACA, also known as Obamacare, began on different dates.

In a closely watched sign-up period, CMS departed from its usual Wednesday data releases to provide an update on ACA enrollment. Sign-ups this year will provide an important indicator of how President Barack Obama’s health law is faring as the 2016 election approaches.

“These numbers tell an important story about a vibrant, healthy, growing marketplace,” Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of CMS, said on the call. “It’s clear now that many people have been waiting to purchase coverage until this enrollment cycle.”

The figures released Friday include the 38 states using the federal marketplace for enrollment. They don’t include states such as California and New York that have their own systems.

Heavy Demand

The U.S. extended the deadline to buy health coverage to Dec. 17 from Dec. 15 for policies that take effect on Jan. 1 because some people couldn’t get through to purchase plans because of a surge in demand at the HealthCare.gov website. Many states that run their own shopping systems -- including New York, California, Maryland and Minnesota -- also delayed their deadlines. Most people can buy policies that start later in 2016 until the end of January.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has said the U.S. expects about 10 million people will be enrolled in individual marketplace plans throughout the country by the end of next year, up from a 2015 year-end projection of 9.1 million. Obamacare set up marketplaces to buy coverage and offers some people subsidies to help them afford it.

Higher penalties for going uninsured also may be persuading more people to purchase coverage. The penalties start at $695 and can reach thousands of dollars for families with higher incomes. About 34 percent of the uninsured are in households where the cost of a low-level “bronze” plan would be less than or equal to the penalty, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Employer-Provided Plans

Burwell’s projection for how many people will buy ACA health plans this year fell short of some expectations. The U.S. has said that’s in part because more people are remaining in employer-provided health plans. In another sign of trouble for Obamacare, UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest U.S. health insurer, has said it may stop selling ACA policies because it’s losing money on them.

Kevin Counihan, who oversees the marketplaces at CMS, said the government is seeing signs that more individuals are shopping for coverage for the first time. That could improve results for insurers that sell ACA policies.

Charles Gaba, who tracks enrollment at acasignups.net, said Friday’s data probably puts CMS ahead of Burwell’s projection. When the entire country is counted and people are automatically renewed, he figures about 11 million to 12 million people will have signed up.

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