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Obama Cites Health Plan Tally of 11.4 Million

Obama Cites Health Plan Tally of 11.4 Million | Healthcare and Technology news |

President Obama said Tuesday that 11.4 million people had selected private health insuranceplans or renewed their coverage under the Affordable Care Act in the enrollment period that ended Sunday.

“It gives you some sense of how hungry people were out there for affordable, accessible health insurance,” Mr. Obama said in a video released by the White House.

Administration officials said the numbers would grow in the next week as insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, signed up people who had tried to enroll but encountered technical problems on or state insurance websites.

The White House celebrated the latest numbers as evidence of the success of the health law, which was adopted in 2010 without any Republican votes.

“The Affordable Care Act is working,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s working a little bit better than we anticipated — certainly, I think, working a lot better than many of the critics talked about early on.”

More than a million people selected health plans in the last nine days of the latest open enrollment period.

“On the final day,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, “we had more consumers sign up than we’ve every had, last year or this year.”

Many people cited the threat of tax penalties as a reason for obtaining insurance.

Federal health officials emphasized that the latest numbers were preliminary. People are not formally enrolled until they pay the first month’s premium. Some people who gain insurance and pay the initial premium lose the coverage because they do not pay their share of premiums in later months.

Ms. Burwell had set a relatively modest goal for 2015, saying she wanted to have 9.1 million people signed up and paying premiums at the end of the year. The Congressional Budget Office had projected enrollment of 12 million for 2015.

The administration has had difficulty establishing a firm count of people gaining insurance under the health law.

In April 2014, Mr. Obama announced that eight million people had signed up in the initial enrollment period that had ended March 31. By October, that number had declined to 7.1 million because some people failed to pay premiums or were found ineligible because of unresolved questions about their citizenship or immigration status.

The number shrank again in November, to 6.7 million, as congressional investigators discovered that the administration had overstated enrollment by including about 400,000 people with dental insurance.

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Federal Health Exchange Sees Enrollment Flurry

Federal Health Exchange Sees Enrollment Flurry | Healthcare and Technology news |

The Obama administration said Tuesday that nearly 2.5 million people had selected health insuranceplans through the federal marketplace in the first four weeks of open enrollment this fall.

More than one million of those selections came in just one week, from Dec. 6 through last Friday.

“Millions of Americans want access to affordable quality health insurance, and they came to the marketplace to find it,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, said in reporting enrollment activity under the Affordable Care Act.

Monday was the deadline for people to sign up for insurance taking effect on Jan. 1. Andrew M. Slavitt, the No. 2 official at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the new data did not include activity from Saturday through Monday, when the website for the federal exchange was exceptionally busy.

In those three days, Mr. Slavitt said, more than three million people used the site,, and the exchange received 1.6 million telephone calls.

“Our call center and our technology have done their jobs so far,” Mr. Slavitt said. For about 90 minutes on Monday, officials said, they deployed an online waiting room for visitors to, but most users were not affected.

The number of people selecting plans in the first month of open enrollment this fall already exceeds the number who chose plans in the federal exchange in the first three months of enrollment last year, when Kathleen Sebelius was health secretary and the website often crashed or froze.

The improved performance of the website may help the Obama administration fend off attacks on the health care law by Republicans in Congress, who won control of the Senate and expanded their House majority in elections last month.

About half of those selecting health plans this fall, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 12, were new customers, and half were renewing coverage or switching to a different health plan.

Millions of people who took no action to extend their coverage will automatically have it renewed.

The Obama administration had urged people to return to, shop around and compare the options, saying they could often find a better deal. But it appears that many people did not take that advice.

“We know that not everybody wants to come back and renew their coverage every year,” Mr. Slavitt said.

Consumers have until Feb. 15 to sign up for insurance or switch to different health plans.

The numbers released on Tuesday are for the 37 states that use the federal insurance marketplace. They do not include the results of activity in New York, California and 11 other states that run their own exchanges.

As of mid-October, before the latest enrollment period began, 6.7 million people had insurance through the federal and state exchanges. The new numbers suggest that the Obama administration can easily surpass its stated goal for 2015: having 9.1 million people enrolled and paying premiums.

Federal officials said Tuesday that they would allow a small number of people to sign up for January coverage even though they missed the deadline on Monday.

In general, people who were enrolled in health plans this year and took no action will be automatically enrolled in the same or similar plans for 2015, with no change in the amount of their financial assistance. But administration officials said they would offer a “special enrollment period,” in effect extending the deadline, for a small number of people who, for various reasons, could not be automatically re-enrolled.

“There’s going to be an opportunity for special enrollment periods to fill in any gaps in coverage,” said Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of the federal insurance marketplace. The special enrollment period could allow some consumers to sign up in late February for coverage retroactive to Jan. 1, according to a bulletin sent to insurers by the government.

Officials said this type of special treatment would be allowed for some people losing coverage because their insurance company was withdrawing from the state in which they live. They could not be automatically re-enrolled because their plans no longer exist.

In other cases, federal officials said that consumers could not be automatically re-enrolled in a plan because of various “technical errors” and “data errors.” If, for example, a person’s home address is missing from federal records, that could block automatic re-enrollment, the officials said.

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Health Plan Enrollment Numbers Show Importance of Coming Supreme Court Case

Health Plan Enrollment Numbers Show Importance of Coming Supreme Court Case | Healthcare and Technology news |

A new report from the Obama administration highlights the very high stakes for a challenge to the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court. The subsidies that the court may eradicate are helping a large majority of customers pay for their health insurance.

The report is the first time that the Department of Health and Human Services has delivered some numbers on exactly who is signing up for health insurance for 2015, since the open enrollment period began in mid-November.

The data that was used isn’t perfect or complete — and many commentators rightly grumbled about its shortcomings — but the report is still a helpful snapshot of whom the new insurance markets are serving. It’s particularly detailed in looking at the people using the marketplaces in the 37 states that are letting the federal government manage their enrollment.

Over all, it found, customers who were using to pick insurance plans — some new customers, and some renewing customers — were overwhelmingly likely to qualify for federal subsidies to help them pay their premiums. On average, the report found that 87 percent of these customers were eligible for subsidies, with higher percentages in some states — up to a high of 95 percent in Mississippi.

Those numbers don’t include everyone in the marketplace; people who were enrolled in plans this year and simply automatically renewed them weren’t counted. But it’s reasonable to think that the proportion is representative. Last year’s number at the end of open enrollment was an average of 85 percent. A different report, also published Tuesday, said that a total of 6.5 million people in those states had selected plans or been automatically renewed into plans as of last week.

The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, called King v. Burwell, argue that the law does not allow the subsidies to help insurance customers in the states letting the federal government run individual insurance marketplaces. And if the court agrees, all those people would lose their subsidies, and many would be priced out of the market.

We’ve written before about the disruptions such a ruling would cause. But as more people sign up for health insurance — and more of them are relying on federal subsidies — the potential impact of the decision grows.

So far, outside of official briefs, administration officials have been quiet about any concerns about the case. Asked several times last week in a news conference about possible contingency planning, the H.H.S. secretary, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, insisted that her department was confident that the government would win in court and that it was focusing its efforts on signing up new insurance customers. But a department news release Tuesday highlighted the high rate of subsidy, suggesting that federal officials were aware of the case’s possible reach.

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