More than 500,000 people enrolled into health coverage via the federal government's health insurance exchanges this month, President Barack Obama said during a news conference Friday.
Monday is the deadline for individuals who want health coverage in place next month, and consumers, the Obama administration, states and health insurance companies are scrambling to secure as many enrollments as possible. The failed launch of HealthCare.gov, the federal portal for health benefits in 36 states, and troubles with several state-run exchanges depressed enrollment during the first two months. The half-million sign-ups Obama revealed today were from the states using the federal exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. State-run exchanges have enrolled about the same amount this month, bringing the total to 1 million, Obama said.
"The health care website problems were a source of great frustration," Obama said. "I now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on Jan. 1, and that is a big deal. That's why I ran for this office," he said.
The White House has maintained since before Oct. 1 that enrollment would accelerate as the first deadline approached for health insurance that will be in effect in 2014, based on the experiences with Massachusetts' landmark health care reform program in 2007 and the launch of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. Obama's statement Friday and signals from states like California operating their own exchanges could be indications that the predictions may have been valid.
One million sign-ups in just three weeks is an uptick from the pace in previous months. Through November, almost 1.2 million people enrolled nationwide, with about 365,000 in private insurance and 803,000 in Medicaid, the Department of Health and Human Services reported last week.
"Millions of Americans, despite the problems with the website, are now poised to be covered by qualify, affordable health insurance come New Year's Day," Obama said. "For all the challenges that we've had and all the challenges that we've been working on diligently in dealing with both the ACA and the website these past couple of months, more than half a million Americans have enrolled through HealthCare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone."
If these trends are real, it would result in a surge of new enrollments by the Dec. 23 deadline. In California, enrollments reached 17,000 a day at the beginning of the week, Covered California, the state's exchange, reported Thursday. New York, Kentucky, Connecticut and other states also say enrollments are increasing.
But HealthCare.gov, and state-run marketplaces in places like Oregon and Maryland, continue to be imperfect. The federal website, after weeks of intensive repair work in October and November, temporarily went down Friday morning, and visitors later in the day were placed in a queuing system because the site couldn't handle additional traffic. And potentially millions of consumers, including those whose current policies can't be renewed because they don't meet the Affordable Care Act's standards, may tax the system in the coming days.
The administration also continues to make changes to the law on the fly as it tries to smooth over the roughness of Obamacare's first months. Individuals whose policies were canceled because of the law won't be subject to its individual mandate, and will be permitted to obtain bare-bones catastrophic plans previously available only to those younger than 30 or those who proved other coverage was a financial hardship. The administration believes this applies to about 500,000 people.
Clarification: This story and headline have been updated to reflect that, according to Obama's speech, 500,000 people signed up via state exchanges and 500,000 people signed up via the federal portal. Previously, this headline only reflected the half a million who signed up via federal exchanges.