US President Barack Obama’s heathcare overhaul, back on track after a stumbling start, has reached a milestone, with more than 6 million people signed up for coverage through new insurance markets.
The announcement on Thursday — four days before open enrollment season ends on Monday — fulfills a revised goal set by the US Congressional Budget Office and embraced by the White House, which has been working vigorously to implement Obama’s most significant first-term achievement.
Achieving the 6 million level was a relief to congressional Democrats, who passed the measure. The law remains unpopular with the public and Republicans are making its repeal their rallying cry in the upcoming November elections.
Like much else about Obama’s healthcare law, the 6 million level comes with a caveat — the administration has yet to announce how many consumers actually closed the deal by paying their first month’s premium. Some independent estimates are that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent have not paid, which would bring the total enrollment to between 5 million and 6 million.
The White House said the president made the announcement during an international conference call with enrollment counselors and volunteers, while traveling in Italy. Administration officials, focused on signing up even more people over the weekend, played down the occasion. Others said it was unmistakably a promising sign.
“I think the program is finally starting to hit its stride in terms of reaching the enrollment goals the administration set,” said John Rother, chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses, healthcare industry groups and consumer organizations.
“It still has a ways to go in terms of achieving public acceptance,” Rother said.
To put the 6 million sign-ups in perspective, consider that the Web site did not work when it was launched in October last year. Millions of people trying to access online marketplace exchanges that offer subsidized private insurance were met with frozen screens.
Although the national number is important, what really counts is state-by-state enrollment. That is because each state is a separate insurance market. To help keep premium increases in check, each state market must have a balance between young and old, healthy and sick.
“The national number only gets us so far,” said Caroline Pearson, who is tracking the rollout for market analysis firm Avalere Health. “The fair measure of success is whether you have set up a market that is sustainable into the future. So you can then go out and find the rest of the uninsured people, and bring them in over the next couple of years.”