At midnight on March 31, the 2014 enrollment period for purchasing health insurance coverage through the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act came to an end. The White House cited that 7.1 million people signed up for private insurance through the exchanges, a huge step forward in the eyes of the Obama administration. However, the number reported is only an estimate when other factors surrounding the nationwide implementation of the ACA are taken into consideration.
The 7.1 million figure of new health insurance customers given to us by the White House may be too low. This number does not take into consideration the most recent updates from states that have their own websites for the ACA exchanges, where many people signed up at the last minute. It also does not account for applications still pending at the exchanges.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a chance this estimate might be too high. There is no exact knowledge on the number of people who have paid their first month’s insurance premiums to ensure coverage. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, anecdotal reports from individual insurance companies estimate that between 80 to 90 percent of consumers have paid up to date.
Many supporters of the ACA will celebrate the number of enrollees that were previously uninsured, a product of the bill’s legal mandate for most citizens to get coverage or face tax penalties, as well as providing for the expansion of Medicaid. While the federal government will not cite how many enrollees from HealthCare.gov and state exchanges were formerly uninsured, the numbers reported so far are a source of good news.
Several states have released the percentages of their enrollees that were previously uninsured. Kentucky stated that 270,000 of the 370,000 enrolled via the state exchange Kynect were uninsured, meaning 43 percent of previously uninsured Kentuckians now have coverage. New York reports more than 70 percent of their 865,000 enrollees were previously uninsured.
According to survey data from the Rand Corporation released by the Los Angeles Times, the rate of uninsured working adults fell from 20.9 percent last fall to 16.6 percent on March 22, a number the Times calculates to be as many as 9.5 million people gaining coverage via Medicaid and private insurance. This falls in line with the Congressional Budget Office’s projections that the number of legal US residents without health insurance will decline from 14 percent this year to 8 percent by 2024. As more reports on this facet of the ACA’s implementation come out there is reason to believe this trend will continue.
While the numbers suggest that the ACA is addressing some problems of the long-broken US healthcare system, there are factors that Obamacare won’t be able to control right away. People will lapse on their payments rest of the year and transition from having insurance to not for reasons such as losing a job and the health benefits that came with it or moving to another state. There must also be a chunk of ACA enrollees between the ages of 18 and 34 in order for this healthcare policy to be ultimately successful. The White House hoped for 40 percent of nationwide private insurance enrollees to fall within this age range; however as of March 1 the Department of Health and Human Services reported that only about one quarter of enrollees were between the ages of 18 to 34.
A large, young portion of the ACA exchange customer group is crucial to this policy’s success; if only those requiring a significant amount of healthcare are covered, their medical bills will increase future premiums. Another part of the ACA allows young adults to stay on their family’s plan until age 26, which increases the difficulty of attracting young customers to the ACA. Although the final estimation only shows that 25 percent of enrollees are categorized as young, some reports that show that more young people will more likely use the exchanges as time goes on. Health insurance companies have stated that new customers were trending younger near the end of the enrollment period. According to the company EHealth, their share of customers aged 18 to 34 rose from 39 percent during the first half of enrollment to 45 percent during the second half.
While there are many speed bumps on the road towards revitalizing the broken US healthcare system the implementation of the ACA and numbers from its first enrollment period demonstrate a meaningful start. Uncertainties and unknown challenges will continue to arise as Obamacare reaches the entire nation, yet the White House’s estimation shows this can be effective legislation. Instead of maintaining the idea that this bill is unacceptable, House Republicans must accept the reality that this is the future of America’s healthcare. By focusing on open-mindedness and voting on new amendments rather than total repeal, the ACA could be a quicker success than what current numbers say.