It’s a good day at the White House.
President Barack Obama announced on Thursday afternoon that at least 8 million people have signed up for health insurance policies on the state and federal exchanges during the first open enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act.
The latest figures surpass the White House’s original goal to enroll 7 million in the program’s first year. “This thing is working,” Obama said with gusto to reporters in the White House briefing room. He also said, “I’ve said before this law won’t solve all the problems in our health care system. We know we’ve got more work to do.” But he also wasted no time in taking a swing at congressional Republicans who are still trying to do away with the law.
“Now we have a sizeable part of the U.S. population in a position to enjoy the financial security of health insurance,” the president said. “The point is, the repeal debate is and should be over. The Affordable Care Act is working. I know the American people don’t want us to spend the next two-and-a-half years fighting settled battles.”
The new figures represent the total number of people who selected plans on the exchanges between Oct. 1 and April 15, when the special enrollment period ended. They do not reflect how many people have paid – though insurers have estimated that to be about 85 to 90 percent of total enrollees. It is also unclear how many of these people were previously uninsured, though a separate study by the Rand Corporation estimates about two thirds were previously insured.
Republicans, for their part, quickly dismissed the new numbers, calling them inflated, arguing that the law has been harmful to families and businesses.
“This law has disrupted health care for millions of Americans, sent premiums skyrocketing, limited access to doctors, and cancelled plans. And even after all of that havoc, its ability to add to the insurance rolls is based largely on the fact that it forced Americans to purchase government-mandated coverage under the threat of costly penalties from the IRS,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) in a statement.
The administration said some 7.1 million Americans signed up through the exchanges before midnight on March 31 – the official end of the open enrollment period. Another 900,000 people took advantage of the special enrollment period that ended on April 15 for those who had trouble signing up through the online exchanges.
Some 28 percent of enrollees are between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s the demographic most crucial to stabilizing the price of premiums, since younger people tend to be healthier and rack up fewer medical bills.
Health policy experts, however, caution that the White House’s goals and benchmarks aren’t necessarily an accurate way to assess the law and gauge its impact on premiums next year.
“It matters [more] that enrollment actually reflects what the insurers were anticipating, and that’s something we don’t know,” Adrianna McIntyre, managing editor of The Incidental Economist, said on BloggingHeads. “The media has been relying on White House projections and CBO projections, but that’s not actually a very helpful metric.”
The administration also said 3 million more people have enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program since the marketplaces opened on Oct. 1. Another 5 million have also enrolled in policies off the exchanges.
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