Roughly 4 million Americans have signed up for health coverage on the new insurance exchanges, the Obama administration said Tuesday. That’s still about 3 million short of the White House’s goal of enrolling 7 million people before the March 31 deadline.
Still, administration officials are touting the numbers as a success, and say they are confident that enrollment will continue to surge ahead of the open enrollment deadline.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius walked back the much-cited 7 million figure during a HuffPost Live interview on Tuesday.
“First of all, 7 million was not the administration,” Sebelius told Huff Post Live in an interview Tuesday. “That was a CBO, Congressional Budget Office prediction when the bill was first signed. I’m not quite sure where they even got their number.... I’m more interested in what we are doing today: getting the word out to target populations.”
Still, as Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski pointed out, Sebelius has previously embraced the number, telling The Washington Post last June that she was “hopeful that 7 million is a realistic target.”
Officials have also stressed that the number of enrollees isn’t as important as the mix. In order for the law to succeed, the White House needs enough young and healthy people to enroll in the exchanges in to offset the costs for older, sicker Americans. The latest figures released at the end of January showed that young people accounted for about 27 percent of total enrollments—still well below the White House’s 40 percent benchmark.
Regardless, there are still five weeks left for Americans to enroll in coverage. Many advocates are expecting younger people—most crucial to the law’s success- to wait until the last minute to sign up—as they did in Massachusetts.
These latest figures do not indicate how many of these people have actually paid for their plans. The figures simply reflect who has selected a policy. One CNN survey of insurers conducted last month found that one in five people had not paid their premiums. Whether that is accurate is not clear.
Another important question the figures do not answer is how many of the new enrollees previously lacked health coverage. This is important since a key goal of the healthcare reform law was to extend access to coverage for the millions of uninsured Americans.
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