With just under two weeks left in open enrollment season 2015, the government has announced that 9.5 million people have signed up for health insurance via federal and state marketplaces. The Affordable Care Act, which requires people to sign up for qualified health insurance or face a fine, has been challenged nationwide by skeptics who disagree with the concept behind the law. If enrollment numbers are any indication, it appears that the ACA is working for millions of Americans.
As of Jan. 16, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had reported that 7.1 million people had signed up for health insurance using federal exchanges. That number now combines with an additional 2.4 million people from state-run marketplaces to form the tally of 9.5 million. According to some recent estimates, that puts the government ahead of its goal for the entire year, and there are still a couple of weeks left in the open enrollment period.
The enrollment numbers may change as the deadline of Feb. 15 approaches. The government currently counts all sign-ups on both state- and federally run health exchanges regardless of whether enrollees have paid their first month's premiums. In order for enrollment to count in the final tally, those who sign up will have to pay the premium.
Enrollment estimates also include people who were automatically re-enrolled into their existing plans from last year. While healthcare officials have been urging people to reconsider their health insurance options this year due to the influx of new policies and insurers on the exchange, many people have allowed their plans to auto-renew. At the start of open enrollment on Nov. 15, approximately 6.7 million people had government-sponsored plans under the ACA, and many of those people have returned for the second enrollment period.
On the federal exchange, 4.15 million people have been re-enrolled in their existing plans. The remaining three million enrollees are new to the marketplace this year. Both federal and state health insurance exchange sites have been doing well according to the numbers. In Florida, nearly 1.3 million people have signed up for coverage using the federally facilitated site. On the West Coast, approximately 1.2 million California residents have used that state's exchange to enroll.
Early estimates last spring by the Congressional Budget Office held that as many as 13 million people would be signing up for health insurance by the end of the 2015 enrollment period. However, the Department of Health and Human Services disagreed with this estimate and asserted in November 2014 that the number would be between 9.1 and 9.9 million. Officials with the HHS claimed that the ramp-up period, which is the amount of time a new program takes to become fully implemented, would take significantly longer than the CBO's original estimate. Citing this and other factors, the HHS suggested more conservative enrollment numbers for 2015.
Experts assert that most people will find cost-assistance options on the marketplace this year. Already, 87 percent of the people who have signed up for insurance using a health exchange have qualified for some type of subsidy or federal assistance.
Additionally, many enrollees this year are younger than 35, which is good news for ACA supporters. Approximately 2.5 million people under the age of 35 have signed up for plans on the exchanges so far. Young people help offset the cost of the program as a whole because they will pay more in premiums and seek fewer medical treatments.
One reason for the surge in enrollment numbers is related to the increased penalty fine for 2016. This year, those without insurance will pay $325 or 2 percent of their income, whichever is greater. The fee this year was nominal for many families, but an increased penalty fee combined with the lack of healthcare services will drive many Americans to reconsider their stance on insurance.
The boost in numbers in recent weeks also suggests a shift toward last-minute enrollment. As the deadline quickly approaches, more people will log on to the HealthCare.gov website or their own state marketplace to view their options according to officials. Recent bursts in enrollment have occurred around impending deadlines, and healthcare officials fully expect an additional surge as Feb. 15 draws near. To get started consumers can go here.