The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released the latest ObamaCare enrollment numbers yesterday and that offered even more good news for the beleaguered administration. It seems that approximately 1.15 million good folk signed up for coverage in the month of January, pushing the total numbers since October to a whopping 3.3 million.
January was the very first month in which actual enrollments outdistanced even the administration’s predictions by almost 90,000.
Before breaking out the party hats, however, it’s important to note that the enrollment tally comes with a few big caveats. First, the raw number doesn’t show what percentage of enrollees have made their first payments. Secondly, it doesn’t indicate the percentage of people who already had health insurance. Finally we still don’t know exactly what those premiums will look like once the entire system is up and running.
That being said, the enrollment totals dispel the biggest concern about ObamaCare and that is it would collapse due to low participation. While Enrollments almost certainly won’t hit the administration’s original target of 7 million, they should come close. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates they’ll come in at about 6 million, and at 3.3 million, the enrollment pool is already “large enough for the market to function,” MIT economist Jonathan Gruber told Politico.
So what about that dreaded death spiral? Young people, who are crucial to ObamaCare’s success, made up just 24 percent of enrollees last year, well below the administration’s 40 percent goal.
Enrollment among young people, crucial to ObamaCare’s success, ticked up to 27 percent in January, and although that’s still below the desired level, it’s not low enough to be too problematic. A December Kaiser Family Foundation study found that even in a worst case scenario with “young invincibles” making up just one-quarter of all enrollments, premiums would only rise marginally, or “well below the level that would trigger the ‘death spiral.’”
So the death spiral, a term coined by republicans and their propaganda arm Fox News, is already off the table, and that’s before the expected March spike in young adult enrollment. Lots of healthy younger folks are believed to be procrastinating for now, waiting until the last minute to sign up.
In another bit of good news for ObamaCare, a Gallup survey out this week found the uninsured rate falling to its lowest level since 2008. Though it’s too early to draw a causal relationship between the health care law and that trend, the downturn is at least “more consistent with a story of success than the story of failure conservatives keep telling,” wrote New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn.
“This law is a lemon,” he added.
True, the health care rollout has been marred by some screwups and technical glitches, but, as the steady improvements have shown, ObamaCare isn’t unworkable; it’s working. The new enrollment figures are turning that lemon into lemonade.
Many thanks to The Week for some story contributions.