Obamacare Enrollments Hit Nearly 12 Million, Top Health Official Says

03/09/2015 03:39 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2015
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Close to 12 million people are covered by health insurance plans purchased from an Obamacare exchange, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said at the White House Monday.

More than half of these enrollees are new to the program, said Burwell, speaking at an event commemorating the close of the second open enrollment period for subsidized private health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act's exchange marketplaces. The enrollment total surpasses the Department of Health and Human Services' projections, but is lower than what the Congressional Budget Office expected.

"Nearly 11.7 million Americans signed up or were re-enrolled through the marketplace as of Feb. 22," Burwell said. "We are finally moving the needle on reducing the number of uninsured."

These enrollments over the past two years have helped significantly reduce the share of Americans who are uninsured. That trend, though, is in jeopardy. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a lawsuit alleging that the Affordable Care Act doesn't permit health insurance subsidies for people living in the 34 states where the federal government is operating the Obamacare exchanges via HealthCare.gov. Almost 10 million people could lose their health coverage if the high court sides against the White House and eliminates the subsidies.

"We're confident that we will prevail in the court case argued before the Supreme Court last week. The law is clear," Burwell said Monday. "The text and structure of the Affordable Care Act demonstrate that individuals in every state are eligible for tax credits. Those who support this lawsuit believe that the law should be dismantled or repealed, and they are content to roll back the progress that we have achieved."

Among the estimated 7.7 million enrollees from the federal health insurance exchanges, 87 percent received tax credits worth $263 a month on average, Burwell said. More than half the enrollees paid $100 or less a month, including their subsidies. "These numbers show just how important the tax credits are to millions of Americans and to the insurance markets in those states and throughout the marketplace," she said.

The annual open enrollment period for people using the health insurance exchanges officially ended Feb. 15, but sign-ups have continued.

Federal officials and most state-run exchanges have allowed individuals with applications in process to complete them for about a week following the deadline. In addition, the federally managed exchanges serving more than 30 states, and the majority of the exchanges operated by 13 states and the District of Columbia, re-opened enrollment for people who learn when they file their income taxes that they owe a fine under the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate that most U.S. residents have health coverage.

The numbers Burwell announced Monday are 300,000 higher than those reported by the White House last month. Although additional tax season sign-ups are likely to boost the tally, enrollment is expected to decline over the course of the year as consumers obtain health coverage through another source, like a job, or as they give up their policies and become uninsured.

"While we know that the numbers will change as the year continues, we are pleased with the results today," Burwell said.

The number of sign-ups Burwell announced Monday doesn't reflect how many of those enrollees have begun paying for their insurance policies, which is necessary to secure coverage. During the 2014 enrollment campaign, the number of enrollees surpassed 8 million, but fell below 7 million within six months.

During the year, people can use the exchanges to buy insurance if they experience a life change, such as having a baby or getting married. Open enrollment for 2016 coverage begins Nov. 1, 2015, and runs through Jan. 31, 2016.

The health insurance exchange figures announced Monday don't include new sign-ups for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Nearly 11 million people have joined those programs since Obamacare enrollment began in October 2013, largely driven by the law's broadening of Medicaid eligibility. To date, 28 states and the District of Columbia have opted into the Medicaid expansion.

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