June 20, 2018
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Is Obamacare out of the woods? We’ll have to wait a little longer to know

HANDOUT | Reuters
HANDOUT | Reuters
House Speaker John Boehner attempts to sign up for healthcare on the DC Health Link in Washington, in this handout photo courtesy of the Speaker of the House website on November 21, 2013. Boehner said on his blog on the website that he was successfully enrolled after help from the DC Health Link help line.


Has Obamacare turned a corner and recovered from its bungled start? Or should Americans expect more problems to pile on as the Affordable Care Act gets off the ground?

A reasonable conclusion might fall somewhere in the middle. The latest insurance enrollment numbers released by the federal government show the law’s online exchanges are lagging in signing up lower-income people for coverage. And we still don’t know if healthcare.gov is working as well on the back end as it now is on the front end.

Still, while enrollment for October and November fell short of Obama administration goals, the fact that many more are now applying for coverage and going through the steps to purchase it is a promising sign the Obama administration has made significant improvements to the infamous healthcare.gov website.

Nationwide, through the end of November, healthcare.gov and the 17 state-operated online insurance marketplaces had received applications for insurance to cover nearly 3.7 million people; that’s up from 1.5 million people at the end of October. Some 2.3 million people found out they were eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan (up from 1.1 million a month earlier), and about 365,000 had followed through and chosen a health plan.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected 7 million people will enroll in an exchange-offered plan in 2014.

One indicator that shows the progress healthcare.gov has made since October is the fact that successful enrollments through the federal website are gaining ground on enrollment figures in states operating their own enrollment websites.

At the end of October, the federal website was responsible for just a quarter of health coverage signups. By the end of November, the number of healthcare.gov signsup had increased more than fivefold. State-run marketplaces experienced less than a threefold increase. Still, states operating exchanges on their own are so far responsible for more signups — 227,000 — than the federal website — 137,000.

In Maine, the federal government has received insurance applications for 16,325 people (by comparison, about 130,000 people in Maine lack health insurance). Some 12,667 Maine people had found out they’re eligible for marketplace coverage, and 1,747 people had selected a plan by the end of November, up from 271 a month earlier.

So, is Obamacare is on track to accomplish some of its chief objectives?

— Soon, those who think they’ve successfully signed up for insurance will start finding out if the federal government website succeeded in transferring consumers’ information to insurers. In addition, the federal government still needs to transmit the information to states about those who found out through healthcare.gov that they might qualify for Medicaid coverage.

— Demographic information about those enrolling in insurance — which the federal government hasn’t released — would tell us whether Obamacare is enrolling the young people on whose premiums the health care law’s viability depends. If Obamacare enrollment patterns match those of Massachusetts in 2007 — when the Bay State rolled out the health law after which Obamacare is modeled — younger people will start to enroll as the final, March 31 deadline nears. That’s if many young people enroll at all following recent polling that shows less than a third of young, uninsured Americans plan to sign up.

— Obamacare’s primary goal is to reduce the number of people who lack health insurance. In 2014, the CBO projects the number of uninsured people nationwide will drop to 44 million from 55 million. We don’t have the information we need yet to know what portion of those enrolling in insurance plans currently lack insurance.

— So far, just 41 percent — in Maine, 47 percent — of those who know they’re eligible for insurance through Obamacare exchanges have incomes low enough to qualify for federal premium assistance. But the CBO projects more than 85 percent of exchange enrollees will qualify for subsidies in the Affordable Care Act’s first year. This tells us Maine and the nation have a ways to go in signing up low-income populations for insurance.

There’s more of an upside to Obamacare’s November enrollment numbers, but it’s still too early to judge whether the health law is accomplishing what it set out to do.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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