New estimates for healthcare enrollment on the marketplaces reveal that about 12.5 million people will sign up for insurance by the end of open enrollment on Feb. 15. According to ACASignups.com, the number of people who will take advantage of qualified health plans on the marketplace will surpass the government’s own estimates by more than four million people. These new estimates don’t take into account insurance plans purchased off of the health insurance exchange sites, but neither do the official reports issued by agencies such as the Congressional Budget Office or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
(image from acasignups.net)
Open enrollment for this year began in November, and numbers were lower than anticipated in the early weeks primarily due to the holidays. Enrollment numbers increased in the following weeks as people returned to their usual routines, but numbers are still lower than expected by some government officials. Consumers have until Feb. 15 to purchase health insurance for the coming year, and so far, experts are concerned about the decreased projections. Not everyone is concerned, however, and not everyone is surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the new healthcare law.
Just days before open enrollment began, the Health and Human Services Department issued a report asserting that far fewer people would enroll in a health insurance plan this year than the Congressional Budget Office had predicted in April. Then, the CBO projected that 13 million people would sign up for health insurance by the Feb. 15 deadline. HHS officials disagree with this optimistic projection, claiming that the number might only be as high as 9.9 million.
The difference in projections sparked debate among supporters and opponents of Obamacare. The HHS explained its reasoning based on a slower timeline of the “ramp up” period allotted for the Affordable Care Act. New programs take time to fully implement, and the CBO had initially proposed a three-year time frame to achieve the steady state projection of 25 million people. The HHS, working off of updated enrollment numbers and current data, rejects the three-year ramp up period in favor of a longer and steadier increase.
Part of the difference lies in how the Congressional Budget Office calculated its projected enrollment figures. Early estimates included a generous allotment for people who would switch from employer-sponsored coverage and private plans to government-sponsored insurance plans available through the marketplaces. Those numbers are much smaller than had been anticipated. Enrollment among the uninsured is also less than expected, but HHS officials expect that number to change significantly in the coming weeks.
Different factors will affect the final enrollment numbers in 2015. For one thing, penalty fees will be assessed for the first time during tax season this year. Those without insurance who qualify for coverage will be expected to show proof of insurance or face a penalty fee according to the law’s individual mandate. Fees are relatively low this year, but the fee for 2016 will increase substantially. As individuals and families get hit with penalty fees on their taxes, they may think twice about enrolling in an insurance plan.
As noted on enrollment tracker website ACASignups.net, healthcare sign-ups this year have recovered steadily nationwide since the holiday slowdown. The site suggests that final enrollment numbers for 2015 will more closely match those predicted by the Congressional Budget Office in April of last year. A detailed chart offered on the website reveals consistent predictions for enrollment since November 2014. With less than a month left of enrollment season 2015, consumers need to evaluate their health insurance needs by Feb. 15 to determine how the ACA will affect them.