Almost every Obamacare delay has been met with derision by congressional Republicans, who seize on every adjustment to the law’s timeline as evidence that it’s not ready to be rolled out.
But one of the administration’s most high-profile delays — the decision to extend the deadline to sign up for January coverage from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23 (and then to Dec. 24) — has allowed hundreds of thousands of additional people to enroll in coverage.
“As Americans across the nation are gathering to celebrate Christmas with loved ones, right on cue the administration has quietly and unilaterally changed its health care law once again,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) said in a statement after the second extension. “Another day, another delay. While the holiday surprises have become commonplace, the latest extension is another disappointment for the ‘most transparent administration in history.’”
But without that additional week-plus, hundreds of thousands of Americans might have gone uninsured in January.
About 975,000 people signed up for coverage in December through HealthCare.gov before the Dec. 24 deadline, the administration announced Sunday. If you take President Obama’s announcement that 500,000 enrolled through the federal website as of Dec. 20, that means at least an extra half a million people had a chance to sign up in the days after Obama’s announcement — already beyond the original deadline — through the new one because of the administration delay.
In the 15 states running their own Obamacare websites, a rough count of the early numbers indicates that at least 300,000 people enrolled between Dec. 16 and Dec. 24. Put those figures together and more than 750,000 signed up for coverage during the extra week that the administration offered.
Some probably would have gotten signed up anyway if the deadline was never changed. But given the record traffic that HealthCare.gov saw in the last week before the new deadline, it seems self-evident that hundreds of thousands of people benefitted from the delay.
In addition to helping Americans get covered, the extension also helped the administration politically after a disastrous first two months. The enrollment total at the end of November — 365,000 people — was less than the administration projected for just the month of October. But by the Dec. 24 deadline, total enrollment should be around 2 million: still less than the 3.3 million that the administration projected for the end of December, but much closer to the mark.
The raw numbers don’t tell Obamacare’s whole story — experts would tell you that the mix of young versus old people is as important as the enrollment total, but the administration has not yet released any demographic data — but for now, it seems the decision to delay that key enrollment deadline has gone a long way toward getting the law back on track.