More than 6 million people have signed up for health insurance on the new exchanges, a number that signals a tremendous last-minute surge, the White House said Thursday. President Barack Obama told volunteers and navigators helping sign people up that 1.5 million people visited HealthCare.gov on Wednesday -- the highest-traffic day yet. Officials have said they logged more than a million visits each day so far this week.
The expectation all along was that health care enrollment through the Affordable Care Act would spike shortly before the March 31 deadline. As of this afternoon, those expectations are very much in line with reality.
Remember, this total only refers to consumers who've signed up for private coverage through exchange marketplaces. It doesn't include Americans who've gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. For that matter, clearing the 6-million milestone is an important threshold, but there's still time remaining in the open-enrollment period and it's not unrealistic to think we'll see 6.2 million by next week.
"We are seeing near-record numbers of consumers coming to check out their options and enroll in coverage. Yesterday alone, we had 1.5 million visits to HealthCare.gov and took more than 430,000 calls at our 24/7 call center," said Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
As of March 1 -- not quite four weeks ago -- 4.2 million Americans had enrolled through exchanges, suggesting we've seen nearly two million consumers sign up in less than a month.
It's easy to forget, but this seemed like a pipe dream last fall. In October, the first month of the open-enrollment period, just 106,185 consumers signed up for insurance through an exchange – causing Republicans to not only celebrate, but to openly mock the system by noting a variety of sports venues that hold more than 106,185 attendees.
It was obviously proof, we were told at the time, that the Affordable Care Act itself was "hurtling toward failure."
The enrollment totals must seem literally unbelievable to Republicans, who managed to convince one another that the ACA is not only catastrophically flawed, but on an inevitable road towards imploding.
Indeed, as Paul Krugman noted earlier today, "[P]eople in the GOP are still working with a completely wrong narrative — namely, that Obamacare is failing, and that these are desperate ploys to save a sinking ship. The reality is quite different: enrollments have clearly surged in the final month.... How will the GOP respond when the numbers come in?"
I don't know the answer to that question, but I suspect it'll have something to do with Benghazi.
To reiterate a point from early February, those who say they hate "Obamacare" won't want to hear this, but the imminent implosion of the Affordable Care Act has been cancelled.
What's more, this is less of a comeback story than a story of normalcy and effective governance. 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.