The Obamacare recovery continued in February, according to new numbers released by the Obama administration Tuesday: 942,000 Americans enrolled in private coverage last month, bringing the total through five months to 4.2 million.
Sign-ups are still lagging behind the original 7 million enrollments projected for the entire six-month open enrollment period that ends March 31, but the law has made up significant ground. And if enrollments have been spiking in March as White House officials and health policy experts have long predicted, Obamacare could come closer to meeting that 7 million projection, made by the Congressional Budget Office before the enrollment period began in October, than most would have thought possible after HealthCare.gov’s disastrous launch.
Think of it this way: In October, when the website failed miserably and about 100,000 people signed up for insurance, enrollment stood at 21 percent of what the CBO had expected for that month. Now, assuming Obamacare has a good final month and gets to 5.5 million sign-ups, that’s nearly 80 percent of the original 7 million that had been projected. CBO revised its projection down to 6 million last month, accounting for HealthCare.gov’s problems.
The 942,000 sign-ups did fall short of the original projection for February specifically, according to a chart posted by Vox Media.
Breaking: Obamacare private insurance enrollment hits 4.2 million, falls short of February enrollment target. pic.twitter.com/aoaEQbvuCH
— Vox (@voxdotcom) March 11, 2014
Administration officials and outside experts have said since before Oct. 1 that they expected enrollment to surge around the law’s two deadlines. Sign-ups ramped up prior to the December deadline to enroll in coverage that started on Jan. 1 — enrollment boomed to 1.8 million in that month alone. They are now expected to do the same before the final March 31 deadline.
“Now, during this final month of open enrollment our message to the American people is this: you still have time to get covered, but you’ll want to sign up today,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
The new data still doesn’t resolve a few questions about the law’s ultimate success. First, it doesn’t say how many of the enrollees were already insured and simply switched because their existing plans were canceled and how many are uninsured people getting covered for the first time. Outside metrics suggest the law is lowering the number of uninsured Americans, but official figures aren’t yet available.
Two, the law still isn’t signing up as many young people as originally hoped: about 27 percent of February enrollees were in the key ages 18 to 34 range, the same as January and up from a 25 percent average from October to December.
Health policy experts have said the law can survive without significant premium increases at that rate — but it’s still below about 40 percent, which was the initial goal.
Lastly, some unknown percentages of enrollees likely never paid their first premium and their coverage therefore never took effect. Insurance companies have estimated between 10 and 25 percent of enrollees never paid a premium.