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HealthCare.gov Applications Hit 6 Million for 2016

Insurance sign-ups are well ahead of last year

The Obama administration has received some good news: Applications for health insurance this year have increased considerably compared with 2015.

The Wall Street Journal reports that nearly 6 million people have signed up for 2016 insurance coverage on the federal exchanges since the November start of open enrollment, a pace that administration officials said outstrips last year’s and indicates the health law’s success.

Analysts had been concerned that higher premiums and deductibles might scare off new enrollees. But according to the administration, 2.4 million of the roughly 6 million people who signed up as of December 17 were new customers. Administration officials said that is about a third more than had signed up last year ahead of the deadline for coverage starting January 1.

 “And the more who sign up, the stronger the system becomes — and that’s good news for every American who no longer has to worry about being just one illness or accident away from financial hardship,” President Barack Obama said.

The administration has said it expects to have about 10 million people signed up and with paid coverage by the end of 2016 — and it will likely meet and even exceed that goal. That’s because people still have until January 31 to sign up, and the 6 million figure doesn’t include consumers with coverage this year who will be automatically re-enrolled for 2016, or people who sign up for coverage on exchanges that are run by states. The federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, serves 38 states.

There was a rush of customers in recent weeks, prompting the administration to extend by two days the December 15 deadline for consumers to sign up for coverage that starts in the New Year. On December 14 and 15, more than 2 million people contacted the federal exchange’s call center, and more than 3.7 million logged onto the online marketplace.

Administration officials said the unprecedented demand means consumers want the affordable-coverage options that the health law’s exchange is providing.

The administration’s original modest goal was an acknowledgment of the tough job it faces in wooing people who have so far held off from getting insurance. There are other reasons fewer people than expected have signed up, including decisions by the Obama administration to allow people to remain on plans that weren’t compliant with the law, which depressed enrollment.

Analysts said lackluster enrollment that trends toward sicker and older consumers could prompt some carriers to leave the exchanges. The biggest U.S. health insurer, UnitedHealth Group Inc., said last month that it is re-evaluating whether to sell plans on the marketplaces because of losses on policies sold on them.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2015.

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