On March 9, Secretary Sylvia Burwell with the Health and Human Services Department reported that enrollment had hit close to 12 million by the end of the sign-up period for 2015. While this number is smaller than what the Congressional Budget Office has been predicting, healthcare officials are excited about the progress.
The Breakdown in Numbers
The Department of Health and Human Services has been tallying up the enrollment numbers week by week since open enrollment began on Nov. 15. Each week, the numbers continued to climb as more people considered their healthcare needs for the upcoming year. A slow start-up period, holidays and uncertainty about this year’s tax season led to a slower climb than anticipated, but general progress has been positive during the second enrollment period.
The official enrollment period ended on Feb. 15, but the government allowed those who were still waiting in line on the phones or on the website to finish up their applications through Feb. 22. At the close of the extra week of enrollment, the HHS reported a final boost in numbers of almost 41,000. In this last week, more than 231,000 applications were submitted while about two million people used the HealthCare.gov website. The Spanish-language version of the website reported more than 49,000 users during the same time frame.
By the time enrollment ended, more than 8.8 million people had signed up for health insurance on the federally facilitated marketplace alone. This number doesn’t include state-based exchanges, Medicaid sign-ups or other assistance programs. The final enrollment numbers also don’t differentiate between paid plans and unpaid plans. In order for enrollment to be official, consumers have to pay their premiums. The new law prevents insurers from dropping coverage arbitrarily, but non-payment is still a valid means of termination. Throughout the year, enrollment numbers may drop somewhat as people fail to pay their premiums on time. Still, early estimates are encouraging.
Higher enrollment numbers indicate that the ACA is accomplishing at least one of its primary goals: giving people access to better health insurance. Despite constant legal challenges and debates about the future of the ACA, the new law remains in place and appears to be working as expected. Consumers now have more rights and better protections, can visit their doctors more frequently and will be able to take care of themselves and their families with affordable health coverage.