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Marginal Growth Expected for 2016 ACA Enrollment

New projections are much lower than previous estimates

Federal and state health insurance exchanges are expected to cover 10 million Americans by late 2016, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell has announced. This is in stark contrast to Congressional Budget Office estimates that predicted enrollment would reach 21 million by 2016.

The Washington Post reports that some health policy experts suggest the tepid 2016 forecast may be partly strategic. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) “has become such a numbers game,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “So, yes — the optics of a low projection are bad, but not nearly as bad as not succeeding when the final enrollment numbers come in.”

Still, substantive forces are at work behind the calculation. According to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates, about 10.5 million uninsured people are eligible to buy a health plan on the exchange, and they are proving more difficult to reach than those who bought coverage early on.

In addition, federal health officials point out that the dynamics of insurance coverage have not been playing out as analysts expected. Fewer employers have dropped health benefits for their workers, and fewer consumers have switched from older policies they purchased on their own. Both factors, HHS officials say, play into their projection of how many people are likely to gravitate to the exchanges.

About half of the members of the targeted group are young adults — a part of the population in which insurance rates historically have been low, HHS officials said. More than a third are members of minority groups. And four in five have less than $1,000 in savings.

Asked how much money HHS will devote to outreach, Lori Lodes, communications director for the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), skirted the question. She said that CMS, which oversees the exchanges, would intensify its marketing in several communities with large uninsured numbers, including parts of Texas, Florida, northern New Jersey, and Atlanta.

Source: The Washington Post, October 15, 2015.

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