Obamacare Enrollment Slows Ahead of Deadline
Policy + Politics

Obamacare Enrollment Slows Ahead of Deadline

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The White House still needs about 1.8 million people to sign up for Obamacare by March 31 to be successful before the open enrollment deadline.  Enrolling 6 million people will do the trick—a number that was revised down from 7 million.

Some 4.2 million Americans have signed up for health coverage on the new insurance exchanges through February, the White House said Tuesday. However, that number could be significantly lower—since it is still unclear how many of those people have actually paid for their plans.

Related: 10 Top Questions Consumers Ask About Obamacare

Though the administration has not provided that information, a separate study by the McKinsey consulting firm says about 25 percent of enrollees have not paid their first premium. That would bring total enrollments down to a little more than 3.1 million.

Still, administration officials are painting the new numbers as a success and say they expect a surge in enrollments ahead of the deadline.

Enrollments this month dipped, however, to about 943,000 from the 1.1 million sign-ups reported in January. Officials attribute the slowdown in February to a shorter reporting period, despite their earlier projections, which anticipated an increase.

Health and Human Services officials have routinely distanced themselves from their previous enrollment goals and instead say the mix of enrollees is a more important metric to measure the law’s success. They stress the need for signing up enough young and healthy people to offset the cost of premiums for older, sicker Americans. The latest figures show that young people account for about 27 percent of total enrollments—still well below the White House’s 40 percent benchmark.

Related: Why There May Be A New Obamacare Delay

Some experts say the failure to reach that target won’t necessarily mean a significant spike in premiums. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that even if young people signed up at just half the rate of the administration’s goal—which they have already surpassed-- premiums would only go up by 2.4 percentage points. They did not, however, mention whether deductibles, which are already high, would increase.

“Because premiums are still allowed to vary substantially based on age, the financial consequences of lower enrollment among young adults are not as great as conventional wisdom might suggest,” the experts said in a note.

Many advocates are expecting younger people to wait until the last minute to sign up as they did in Massachusetts.

The latest enrollment numbers come on the heels of a Gallup survey released yesterday that found the uninsured rate has fallen to the lowest point in recent history.

Related: More Companies Dump Employee Insurance for Obamacare

“This wasn’t a coincidence or something that happened on its own,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters on a call Tuesday. “What we’re finding is more Americans are learning how affordable marketplace insurance can be. We expect even more will sign up as we approach the March 31 deadline.”

It is unclear how much of that decline can directly be attributed to the new law, as the administration has not provided information detailing how many previously uninsured Americans have received coverage through Obamacare.

A separate survey by McKinsey found that very few people--27 percent of total Obamacare enrollees--were previously uninsured. Additionally, the drop in uninsured Americans was lower in 2009 when unemployment was lower. The current drop in the unemployment rate could also partially account for the drop in uninsured Americans.

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