The Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers in December were so strong, there was no realistic way for January’s totals to match up. After all, December was the first month in which healthcare.gov was working effectively and the last month for consumers to enroll and have their coverage begin in January.
That said, while January wasn’t the ACA’s best month, it was its second-best month.
Obamacare had its second-best enrollment month in January, adding more than 1 million people to its rolls, much improved from the law’s rough opening months. The drop was expected after December’s key enrollment deadline, but didn’t slow the sign-ups as much as anticipated.The 1.1 million enrollments as of Feb. 1 bring the law’s total to 3.3 million – still behind its projected totals ahead of the Oct. 1 launch, which had anticipated that many sign-ups by the end of December. But after the law signed up a fraction of its expected enrollees in October and November – before HealthCare.gov was declared fixed – it’s continued positive news for the law, administration officials said.
Perhaps the most striking detail in today’s report was the extent to which it exceeded expectations – as the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff noted, January’s enrollment totals actually exceeded pre-launch projections.
What’s more, the number of young adults enrolling has also inched higher – from 24% to 27% – which is expected to help improve the overall system’s finances.
The full report from the Department of Health and Human Services is online here (pdf).
As for the politics, Sam Baker added, “With two months left to go, Obamacare enrollment is on track to hand the White House a significant win over the law’s critics.” It’s a boast grounded in fact.
To be sure, not all of the news related to the law’s implementation is encouraging for those hoping to see the law succeed. The fact that the employer mandate, for example, has now been delayed – twice – is a reminder that challenges remain.
But on balance, it’s hard to honestly deny the system has found its footing and is gaining strength after a rollout plagued with difficulties.
As we talked about a few weeks ago, this is difficult for the law’s detractors to admit out loud. Congressional Republicans haven’t been shy about their plans to devote the rest of the year to complaining obsessively about the Affordable Care Act, which they see as a winning electoral strategy – the party assumes the law is unpopular, unworkable, and an electoral albatross for Democrats nationwide. Republicans don’t need to govern, the argument goes, they just need to wait for “Obamacare” to implode.
But enrollment is going up, while the number of uninsured goes down. The number of states embracing Medicaid expansion is going up, while insurance-industry fears subside.
All the while, consumers who thought they’d hate “Obamacare” are slowly changing their minds.
The law’s detractors won’t want to hear this, but the imminent implosion of the Affordable Care Act has been cancelled.
What’s more, let’s not forget that this is less of a comeback story than a story of normalcy and effective governance. I realize there was a fair amount of panic in November – remember the pieces that predicted “Obamacare may destroy all of liberalism forever”? – but there were plenty of voices counseling patience. There were problems, but they were surmountable. There were elements that were broken, but they could be fixed.
The recent progress, in other words, isn’t some remarkable fluke the White House achieved through a Hail Mary pass. Rather, what we’re seeing now is progress many of us expected to see all along.