Since September 2013, more than 10 million individuals in the United States have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act according to a survey conducted by the Urban Institute. Of those 10 million people, almost 70 percent used federal or health insurance exchange sites, known as marketplaces, to purchase plans. The total number of uninsured Americans dropped from 17.7 percent to 12.4 percent this year, which indicates that Obamacare is working to lower the number of people who lack insurance.
Fluctuating Enrollment Numbers
Experts cite the creation of the marketplaces and Obamacare's push for Medicaid expansion as two of the primary reasons for the boost in enrollment. Easier access to more affordable options makes it possible for people to take advantage of lower cost insurance as well as federal subsidies that drive down monthly premium costs. In addition, the employer mandate, which is set to go into effect in 2015 for businesses with more than 100 full-time workers, may have resulted in a greater number of enrollees through job-based insurance plans.
This year, the government expects more than 9 million people to sign up using federal or state health insurance exchange sites compared with just below 7 million in 2014. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, new enrollees account for 48 percent of the sign-ups for this year during the first two weeks of open enrollment. The HHS also tracks the total number of sign-ups, which stands at 765,135 as of Nov. 28. More than 1.5 million applications have been submitted to the exchange sites since they went live on Nov. 15.
Despite these promising numbers, it should be noted that enrollment has slowed as of Thanksgiving weekend. Federal officials announced on Dec. 3 that numbers were down most likely due to holiday traveling and shopping. The government expects an upswing in the coming week as the Dec. 15 deadline approaches. While consumers have until Feb. 15, 2015 to sign up for health insurance, those who want new plans to go into effect by Jan. 1 will need to sign up or switch policies by Dec. 15.
Consumer advocates and government officials alike have been encouraging people to review their coverage as quickly and as thoroughly as possible in order to meet the December deadline. Otherwise, those with existing marketplace plans will have their coverage renewed automatically. They may also face higher premiums and reduced subsidies.
Errors in Initial Reporting
Preliminary enrollment numbers for this year's open enrollment period are based only on the number of sign-ups completed through federal marketplace sites. Several states host their own exchanges, and these enrollment numbers have not yet been tallied with the federal numbers. It remains to be seen how individual state marketplaces will factor into the total number for 2015.
On Dec. 6, USA Today reported that the total enrollment numbers for the 2014 enrollment season had been exaggerated by the Health and Human Services Department, but the agency claims that it did not intentionally mislead the government or the American people. When calculating the figures for 2014, the HHS took into account standalone dental plans, which are not considered full coverage. By eliminating individual dental plans, the enrollment numbers for 2014 drop below the 7.3 million initially reported by HHS officials.
Technology's Impact on Enrollment
Technology will play a large role in determining how many people have access to affordable plans via federal or state exchanges. At the federal level, the HealthCare.gov website appears to be working well without any of the technical glitches reported at the outset of last year's enrollment period.
Individual states may experience some difficulty when it comes to sign-ups. In Oregon, for example, residents will have to make the switch from a state-run exchange site to the federal exchange due to problems with the state's Cover Oregon website. The move could cause confusion among residents, and the state has already reported reduced sign-ups due to the transition.
On the East Coast, Maryland residents have gained access to a redesigned website that makes the sign-up process easier this enrollment season. As a result, almost 52,000 individuals in Maryland have enrolled in private plans and Medicaid using the state-based insurance site.
Software engineering specialists like Sanjay Singh, co-founder and CEO of technology firm hCentive, took advantage of the government's technology troubles when the federal site launched in October 2013. Since then, Singh and others have worked to revolutionize the healthcare exchange sites in several states throughout the U.S. Updated technology allows people to sign up without facing application errors, which means that more people can enroll in health insurance.
Despite setbacks such as technological issues and improper reporting concerns, the government is optimistic about this year's enrollment numbers. Officials have set a goal of 9.1 million during the three-month enrollment period that lasts from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15 of next year.