More than 7 million Americans, including about 140,000 in the state of Washington, signed up for health insurance through federal or state exchanges by Monday’s deadline. The numbers represent positive momentum for the Affordable Care Act that got off to a rocky start six months ago.
President Obama took heavy and deserved criticism last fall when his administration flubbed the launch of the federal health exchange website, HealthCare.gov. And despite major improvements to increase user capacity, the president was not confident the website could handle the last-minute rush to register – so he gave those stuck in the system a two-week extension.
The federal government says its website can now handle 100,000 concurrent users. When it launched, more than 250,000 people were trying to register simultaneously. Obviously, more improvements are needed.
Some state-run exchange websites also rolled out with serious programming problems. Even the best performing online exchange sites, such as wahealthplanfinder.org, experienced computer glitches.
Despite all of those issues, first-year enrollment figures validate the president’s belief that Americans want health care coverage and his prediction they would purchase affordable plans through the state and federal exchanges.
Health care analysts estimate that Obamacare has extended insurance to more than 12 million Americans so far. Charles Gaba, of ACASignups.net, says his estimate of up to 16.2 million includes those newly eligible for Medicaid and young adults age 25 and under now covered under their parents’ plans.
The Medicaid expansion component of the ACA is one of the program’s biggest successes. State officials didn’t expect to reach its goal of 250,000 newly eligible adult Medicaid enrollees until 2018, but it has already exceeded that number.
And more than 120,000 others have received Medicaid coverage who discovered from the expansion marketing campaign that they were previously eligible. These numbers might grow larger because, unlike ACA health exchange enrollment for private plans, Medicaid-eligible people can sign up all year long.
These successes have been achieved despite a relentless Republican effort to undermine health care reform.
House Republicans have tried hard to paint Obamacare as a failure. They have taken 51 votes to repeal the ACA and refused every bipartisan effort to pass amendments to make small, but necessary improvements.
The conservative dog whistling and the bungled online rollout have affected public sentiment about Obama’s legislative centerpiece. But while polls indicate support is low, few think the ACA will be repealed. And a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 53 percent are tired of the debate. They want Congress to move on to other pressing issues, such as immigration reform.
More people will sign up for private insurance plans through the ACA exchanges next year, according to a Congressional Budget Office report.
To meet that challenge, the Obama administration must improve the federal exchange website to make registration smoother and seamless for higher volumes of concurrent users. That will eliminate the need for fuzzy deadlines and continue the welcome trend toward public support.