Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Obamacare tops 1 million sign-ups

IT’S A START:The Obama administration needs milions more young, healthy Americans to sign up to the scheme to make it viable before next year’s election

AP, HONOLULU

A surge this month propelled healthcare sign-ups through the US government’s rehabilitated Web site past the 1 million mark, the US administration said, reflecting new vigor for the problem-plagued federal insurance exchange.

Combined with numbers for state-run markets due next month, that should put total enrollment in the new private insurance plans under US President Barack Obama’s health law at about 2 million people through the end of the year, independent experts said.

That would be about two-thirds of the administration’s original goal of signing up 3.3 million by today, a significant improvement given the technical problems that crippled the federal market during October and much of last month.

The overall goal remains to enroll 7 million people by March 31, when open enrollment for next year ends. Obama needs millions of mostly younger, healthy Americans to sign up to keep costs low for everyone.

“It looks like current enrollment is around 2 million, despite all the issues,” Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalere Health, a market analysis firm, said on Sunday. “It was a very impressive showing for December.”

The administration said that of the more than 1.1 million people now enrolled in the federal insurance exchange, nearly 1 million signed up this month.

The majority came days before a pre-Christmas deadline for coverage to start next month. Compare that with a paltry 27,000 in October, the federal Web site’s first, error-prone month.

“We experienced a welcome surge in enrollment as millions of Americans seek access to affordable healthcare coverage,” Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a blog post announcing the figures.

The numbers do not represent a full accounting for the country.

The federal Web site serves 36 states. Yet to be reported are this month’s results from the 14 states running their own sites.

Overall, states have been signing up more people for most of the rollout period than the federal government. However, most of that has come from high performers such as California, New York, Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut. Some states continue to struggle with their exchanges.

Still, the end-of-year surge suggests that the HealthCare.gov Web site now functioning better, the federal market may be starting to pull its weight.

The windfall comes at a critical moment for Obama’s sweeping healthcare law, which becomes “real” for many Americans tomorrow when coverage through the exchanges and key patient protections kick in.

The administration’s concern now shifts to keeping the momentum going for sign-ups, and heading off problems that could arise when people who have already enrolled try to use their new insurance.

The troubled rollout of Obama’s healthcare law has led to declining approval ratings for Obama and his fellow Democrats, giving new life to US Republicans who appeared weakened and fractured after forcing October’s partial federal government shutdown.

Republican lawmakers seized on the glitches to show they were right in trying to repeal “Obamacare.”

Democrats hope that as enrollment figures increase more Americans will see the benefits of the program. Healthcare reform could turn into the pivotal issue in the November election next year when control of Congress will be at stake.

The new law is intended to expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and curb insurance industry abuses such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions or setting lifetime caps on payments for medical expenses.

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