Millions of Americans woke up on January 1, 2014 with health insurance they got through federal and state insurance exchanges thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
The relatively quiet first day is a welcome contrast to three months ago, when massive problems with Healthcare.gov, the online portal to the health insurance exchanges, threatened the law's future and President Obama's legacy. Officials touted improvements to the site as a reason for the drastic increase in enrollments for the month of December – 2.1 million through December 28 – but they also acknowledged that some people who signed up could have problems.
Phil Schiliro, the White House health policy adviser, said on msnbc Tuesday that anyone who signed up for coverage who did have trouble with new insurance should call the HealthCare.gov help line to straighten out any issues. “If anyone is having problems tomorrow, if they go to a pharmacy, if they go to a hospital and there’s no record, they should call that number; the insurer could call that number; and we’ll be able to determine in five minutes whether or not they properly enrolled,” he said.
Of the 2 million people who signed up for private insurance coverage and the 4 million who signed up for Medicaid, only 7,000 people called a special hotline set up to help those who were unable to sign up for insurance by December 24th, the deadline to get coverage starting January 1.
"The new law is transformational for our entire health care system, and for millions of Americans who finally have health security," Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said when announcing the numbers.
A massive enrollment surge in December - 1.1 million through the 24 - still left the admistration far short of an initial goal of 7 million by the end of open enrollment in March 2014, a figure cited by Sebelius in September. Schliro downplayed that number and redirected focus to the one million figure. He said, "There's no magic to the seven million."
One thing is for sure, Republican House leaders have no plans to stop their efforts to repeal Obama's signature legislation. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Thursday afternoon that he intends to schedule a vote next week on a bill related to cyber-secruity and the Affordable Care Act. While this bill is ostensibly an effort to better protect personal data from hackers, the changes are still part of a larger strategy. Cantor said in the memo, "These steps will be part of the overall effort to protect the American people from the harmful effects of Obamacare by ultimately repealing and replacing the law with patient focused reforms that expand access, ensure quality care, and help control costs."
The Republican-controlled House has voted 47 times to repeal Obamacare.
Drew Hammil, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dismissed Cantor’s statements as a scare tactic. "It is clear that the New Year has brought no change in heart for House Republicans. They continue to remain intent on undermining or repealing the Affordable Care Act at every turn, and that effort even extends to scaring their constituents from obtaining health coverage.”
Even as Obama and his advisers have pushed back against attempts to undermine the law, its opponents got a reprieve from one of the provisions hours before it was to go into effect. On Tuesday night, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted a stay of the ACA’s birth control mandate at the request of several Catholic non-profit groups. The Supreme Court is set to consider a legal challenge to the law by Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company that is also arguing that the mandate violates religious freedoms.
Sotomayor asked the government to respond by Friday.