Nearly 10 million Americans have selected a health insurance plan or re-enrolled in coverage on the nation’s health care marketplaces, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.
With just 11 days to go before the Feb. 15 deadline to secure individual coverage for 2015, federal health officials appear well on their way to meeting their cautious goal of enrolling up to 10 million people by year’s end.
In Senate testimony on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell wouldn’t say what the administration would do if a Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming King vs. Burwell case causes millions of Americans to lose the federal subsidies, or “tax credits,” that help them pay for coverage.
But in a conference call with reporters later in the day, Burwell made it clear that she believes the Affordable Care Act and its tax credits are serving a valuable purpose.
“While we continue to have repeal votes, millions of Americans are counting on the Affordable Care Act,” Burwell told reporters. “It’s part of the fabric of their lives. It’s part of how they have financial security. And it’s part of how they have health security.”
The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to repeal the health care law for the 56th time since it was passed in 2010. A repeal effort would face difficulties in the Senate, and President Barack Obama would likely veto the legislation.
The Congressional Budget Office had projected marketplace enrollment under the health care law to reach 13 million in 2015. But in November 2014, HHS officials suggested the CBO’s enrollment estimate was unrealistic, citing “mixed evidence” and “considerable uncertainty” about underlying assumptions the CBO used to reach those projections.
Like last year, officials expect a crush of last-minute marketplace enrollments as the Feb. 15 coverage deadline nears. But it’s unclear how many people who select plans ultimately will remain covered throughout the year.
In 2014, 8.1 million people signed up for coverage through HealthCare.gov during the first marketplace enrollment period, which was extended until May. But only 6.7 million were still enrolled in coverage by November 2014.
Of the estimated 9.9 million who’ve selected a health plan or re-enrolled in coverage nationwide, 7.5 million reside in the 37 states that use the federal marketplace portal, HealthCare.gov.
The rest, at least 2.4 million, are in states that operate their own marketplaces, Burwell said.
The area encompassing Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Fla., led the nation with more than 637,000 coverage sign-ups through Jan. 30, HHS reported.
The Atlanta area was second, with nearly 297,000 sign-ups, followed by the Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington, Texas, area, which had 277,000.
About 87 percent of enrollees in states that use the federal marketplace received tax credits to help them purchase coverage, said Andy Slavitt, deputy administrator of HHS’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Officials already are seeing increases in HealthCare.gov visitors as the enrollment deadline nears. The system is prepared to handle more than 125,000 simultaneous users. Requests for assistance at HHS telephone call centers also have been increasing, Slavitt said.
Beginning Monday, call center staffing will go from 10,000 to 14,000 through the end of the enrollment period.
People are being urged to complete their coverage applications early, if possible, to avoid potential delays on the website and at call centers.
Like last year, HHS will allow people who don’t complete their application by midnight Feb. 15 to do so later if they are “in line” – either engaging with a call center representative or enrolling on HealthCare.gov.