Obamacare Enrollment Inches Up to 4 Million

Obamacare Enrollment Inches Up to 4 Million
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More than 4 million people have signed up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act and “millions more” will sign up by the end of this month, administration officials said Tuesday.

Still missing from data offered by the Health and Human Services Department were measures of uninsured people who obtained coverage under the law’s provisions, and the number or percentage of the 4.2 million enrollees who have paid their first premiums, which is the definition of “insured” for 2014.

Officials said they do not know with accuracy how many uninsured Americans are enrolling -- because that question was not asked on all applications throughout the process. The number of enrollees who wrote checks to insurance companies (and are therefore policyholders) will not be made public for “the next few months … after the open enrollment period is closed,” said HHS spokeswoman Julie Bataille.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other senior officials expressed confidence that younger people are increasingly aware that insurance coverage through the state and federal exchanges is “affordable,” and are therefore moved to enroll. In the final weeks -- and right up to the March 31 enrollment deadline -- “millions more” will commit to health insurance, officials assured reporters during a conference call.

Their latest report described “about 943,000” people who signed up for coverage through the state and federal exchanges in February, bringing the total to 4.2 million from Oct. 1 through March 1.

The latest report suggested an ebbing trajectory of interest, rather than a surge, but Nancy Delew, acting deputy assistant secretary for HHS planning and evaluation, said, “We think we are on the right trajectory.”

The administration previously reported that 1.8 million people enrolled for coverage in December and 1.1 million in January. Last year, from Oct. 1 through November, when the federal website glitches were at their worst, 364,682 people managed to sign up.

“Our aggressive outreach is helping to make a difference,” Bataille insisted, while ticking off the speeches, appearances, advertisements, social media appeals, and overall outreach the administration has crafted to target young people as well as mothers.

President Obama this week participated in a comedy interview intended by White House communicators to “go viral” on the Internet as a way to promote the Affordable Care Act and the impending deadline.

Despite some criticism that Obama’s comedic turn was more a shlocky stunt than a serious presidential pitch for the 2010 law, officials defended his appearance on the “Funny or Die” Web series (starring “Hangover” star Zach Galifianakis) as a “top source of referral” to the HealthCare.gov website. Translation: Of the total number of people who watched the video by Tuesday afternoon, 19,000 “clicked through” to the federal website, officials said. (Obama’s spokesmen did not suggest that 19,000 people enrolled for insurance after watching the president’s shtick.)

“We're constantly looking at different ways to reach Americans who don't necessarily get information about HealthCare.gov from evening news broadcasts or from the newspapers,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

To that end, the president participated in a town-hall interview with Spanish-language networks last week, and will answer questions Friday about the health law via the WebMD website.

Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on Wednesday will be part of a live chat on Google+ with editors of Cosmopolitan magazine and Cosmo for Latinas, trying to make the sale to Hispanics to sign up. Sebelius on Wednesday will host a conference call with bloggers who write about parenting and “women’s issues,” HHS said.

Tuesday’s report breakdown was largely consistent with previous tallies and showed that a quarter of enrollees are between the ages of 18 and 34, and the majority (55 percent) are female.

They said March 31 is one ACA deadline that will not change, because by law it cannot. For the first time, officials explained that when Sebelius committed in 2012 to conclude the enrollment period in 2014, the March deadline was set in stone.

“We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period, and in fact we don’t have the statutory authority” to alter it, Bataille said.

Officials declined to project how many people they think will have enrolled by the end of March, or whether the mix of young and old, plus sick and healthy will prove optimal to maintain “affordable” premium and deductible rates among insurers that participate in the exchanges in 2015.

Hoping for a surge of “millions more” late-deciders and last-minute enrollees, the government has bulked up on trained personnel in its call centers, as well as the HealthCare.gov capacity to handle any surge that occurs later this month.

“We are prepared to handle increased volume,” Bataille said.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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