The Obama administration on Tuesday said the number of people enrolled in private health insurance under Obamacare reached 4.2 million on March 1, amid independent reports of a sustained decline in America's huge uninsured population. The data, which reflects enrollment activity from October 1 through March 1, represented a rise of about 940,000 enrollees in state and federal health insurance marketplaces during the month of February, a sign of continuing momentum. Eighty-three percent of enrollees are eligible for federal subsidies to help pay the cost of coverage.
Affordable Care Act enrollment figures have come a long way since the fall. Back in October, the first month of the open-enrollment period, just 106,185 consumers signed up for health insurance through an exchange -- causing Republicans to not only celebrate, but to mock the system by noting a variety of sports venues that hold more than 106,185 attendees.
The right probably isn't much laughing anymore.
This 4.2 million total, reflecting the total number of sign-ups since the start of the enrollment process, does not include 4.4 million Americans who've received coverage through Medicaid.
For those hoping for success, the news isn't all great. For example, while January's enrollment totals exceeded expectations, February's figures did not. For that matter, the original CBO projections, issued before the open-enrollment process began, projected far more sign-ups by now, though much of this is the result of website troubles in October and November.
Also note, young-adult enrollment is still at 25%, which isn't awful, but is a little short what proponents were hoping for.
That said, on balance, the overall picture remains quite positive. The pace of enrollment has improved considerably -- it's on par with what the administration had hoped for from the outset -- and with 20 days remaining before the end of the open-enrollment period, there's every reason to believe total exchange enrollment will end up between 5 million and 6 million, which seemed like a pipe dream when healthcare.gov was busted in October and November.
Indeed, because lots of people wait to do things until the last minute, many expect a surge of enrollments in the coming weeks -- just as there was a flurry of December sign-ups for those who wanted coverage to begin on Jan. 1, those who want to avoid the tax penalty imposed on the deliberately uninsured will need to sign up by March 31, and many will likely do exactly that.
And remember, none of this includes the millions of people who will now have coverage thanks to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which will boost the overall coverage totals for this period to 10 million or more.
As for electoral politics, congressional Republicans may believe it's wise to spend the next several months running on a curious platform: Vote GOP and they'll fight to take health care benefits away from millions of consumers who might otherwise have to go without.
I'm not a campaign strategist, but this strikes me as a risky proposition.