White House Ramps Up Final Obamacare Push
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The Fiscal Times
March 25, 2014

With less than a week to go before the March 31 deadline, the White House is engaging in an intense outreach effort aimed at getting as many people as possible signed up for coverage on the new health exchanges.

After next Monday—the end of the open enrollment period—Americans without health insurance will be subject to a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income, whichever is greater. This fine will be taken out of next year’s tax returns.

Related: 10 Top Questions Consumers Ask About Obamacare

So far, more than 5 million people have selected a plan on the state and federal exchange, Center for Medicare and Medicaid administrator Marilyn Tavenner said last week. That’s still far from the White House’s original goal of enrolling 7 million before in 2014 but closer to the Congressional Budget Office’s newly revised estimate of getting 6 million people to sign up by March 31. Still, it is unclear how many of those people have actually paid for their policies. Insurers estimate that about 80 percent have paid.

The outreach efforts in the final stretch have focused mainly on enrolling young people and Latinos-- both groups are largely uninsured populations that are crucial to the success of the president’s health care law.

As of March 1, the White House said young people—the group needed in the risk pool in order to offset the costs for older Americans —made up about 25 percent of total enrollment. That’s well below the administration’s original goal of 40 percent. Still, officials have said early on that they expect young people to sign up right ahead of the deadline as they did in Massachusetts.

However, some insurers are already warning that enrollees are skewing older, which, they say, will likely drive up the price of premiums next year.

Related: 4 Reasons Obamacare Premiums Will Rise Next Year

Others say it’s too early to tell since there is still a week left in the open enrollment period.

Avalere Health’s Vice President Caroline Pearson said “without knowing what age and health status mix plans assumed in their premiums this year, it is hard to predict the impact.”

Meanwhile, a handful of insurance companies are optimistic about the mix of enrollees they are seeing. Last week, WellPoint raised its fiscal 2014 earnings outlook, reflecting a better-than-expected increase in new enrollees through healthcare exchanges.  

The Obama administration is aggressively targeting several large states with the greatest uninsured populations, like California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania. These states are needed if the White House will get anywhere near the Congressional Budget Office’s revised estimate of enrolling 6 million people.

As of March 17, California, which has an uninsured population of 7 million—had enrolled 1 million people. Meanwhile, enrollment has lagged in Texas, where there are about 6.2 million uninsured people.

Related: Insurers on Obamacare: Expect Premium Prices to Soar

Enrollment has varied greatly from state to state depending on a host of factors. Republicans have been more resistant to the law and in some cases, state legislatures have tried to discourage enrollment. In Missouri, for example, the Republican controlled state legislature passed a measure that blocked Obamacare navigators from promoting the law, The Washington Post noted.

Another factor has been the status of the exchange websites. States like Maryland, Massachusetts and Oregon have all severely struggled with technical problems to their websites. Oregon has almost exclusively relied on paper applications.

The open enrollment period will likely not be extended beyond March 31. However, the Obama administration has signaled that it may allow exceptions for people who have started the enrollment process but were not able to complete it. Still, those who have not attempted to enroll before March 31 can expect to pay a tax penalty next year.

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Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.