The December enrollment surge for the Affordable Care Act that the Obama administration long predicted — and desperately needed — has come to fruition.
As of Dec. 28, 2.2 million Americans have enrolled in private health coverage, according to new data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 1.8 million of them signed up in December alone, a huge spike that has gotten the law closer to its original goals than most would have thought possible after HealthCare.gov’s disastrous rollout in October.
The administration’s original projection was 3.3 million enrollments in private health insurance by the end of 2013, so Obamacare isn’t quite back on track yet. But considering the combined total in October and November was less than the administration had targeted for just the month of October, it’s much closer to the mark.
Administration officials have said since before the enrollment period launched in October that they expected sign-ups to surge around the law’s deadlines, including the late December deadline to enroll in coverage that started on Jan. 1. But that effectively became an imperative after the federal website’s problems left enrollment straggling far behind what the administration had originally expected.
In that context, outside experts generally took the new numbers as a positive sign for Obamacare.
“In terms of total enrollment, 2.2 million is relatively strong turn-out given massive IT challenges in October and November,” Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health, an independent consulting firm, told TPM.
The surge coincided with the administration’s declaration that HealthCare.gov was fixed by the end of November, after being bedeviled by bugs from its launch. Those problems had kept enrollment through the federal site at pitiful lows in the first two months. But things were better on Dec. 1, officials said: Error rates were down, and response times were quicker. The state-by-state data from Monday’s report reflect that improvement, with total enrollment through HealthCare.gov booming from 137,000 at the end of November to 1.2 million as of Dec. 28.
Administration officials also stressed that three months of enrollment remain — and, for the first time since the federal website flopped in its debut, the initial estimate of 7 million enrollees by the end of March seems at least plausible.
“These enrollment figures are encouraging for this stage in the process, especially with all the early systems problems they experienced,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told TPM. “We’re at halftime in the open enrollment period.”
Perhaps as a sign that the federal website is genuinely working better, enrollment through HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, finally eclipsed enrollment through the 14 (plus D.C.) state-based websites: 1.2 million versus 1 million. Some of the larger states using HealthCare.gov, like Florida and North Carolina, which had previously trailed smaller state-based sites like Kentucky in enrollment, also saw their enrollment skyrocket and become more proportional to their share of the population.