enrollment surges to nearly 6 million so far

President Obama announced on Friday that nearly 6 million Americans have enrolled in insurance for 2016 through — a big increase over last year that federal officials said is a sign that the Affordable Care Act is succeeding.

The number who have already signed up on the federal insurance exchange compares with 3.4 million at the same stage a year ago and comes at a significant moment in the ACA’s enrollment cycle: the deadline for people who want health plans in place starting on New Year’s Day. The figures also show that 2.4 million of the current total are new customers, about a third more than at this point last year.

This good news for proponents of the health-care law prompted the Obama administration to catapult it from what are normally routine announcements by federal health officials to the opening statement of a presidential press conference.

“The more who sign up, the stronger the system becomes,” Obama said at his final 2015 press conference.

[ACA enrollment deadline extended two days after last-minute surge]

Earlier in the week, federal health officials signaled that interest in was running high. They granted a 48-hour extension to the original Dec. 15 deadline for obtaining insurance for Jan. 1, saying that about 1 million people were in line to reach federal call centers or to use the enrollment website.

That surge occurred even though the administration recently tamped down public expectations for how many additional consumers are likely to get ACA insurance for the coming year.

This fall, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell issued a forecast that 10 million people will be covered through such health plans by the end of 2016 — only slightly more than the expectations for the end of this month.

The figures announced by the president, and additional detail provided by federal health officials, reflect activity in 38 states that are now relying on the federal insurance exchange. They exclude the dozen states, plus the District, that operate separate insurance marketplaces under the ACA.

In one important respect, the figures do not indicate the overall number of existing customers who will continue their coverage for another year. Under the rules for, the computer system re-enrolls people automatically if they did not sign up by mid-December. HHS officials have been cautioning consumers not to wait for this automatic enrollment, saying they could face spikes in insurance rates unless they shop around for the best available health plan.

The automatic renewals will take place by the end of this month, and federal health officials, briefing reporters on Friday, declined to say how many current customers have not yet signed up.

Still, administration officials emphasized that use of, particularly in the days leading up to the deadline for Jan. 1 coverage, was running high.

“There was an unprecedented amount of traffic at the call center and an incredible amount of activity on,” said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

On Tuesday, 600,000 people chose health plans, the busiest day for since it first opened in October 2013, Slavitt said. The proportion of new customers increased as the deadline approached — so that newcomers accounted for nearly half of the 1.8 million people who enrolled during the last five days.

The enrollment season continues until Jan. 31.

By Amy Goldstein

Source: The Washington Post -