Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday that she was optimistic about reaching the Obama administration’s goal of having 9.1 million Americans enrolled in coverage under the health care law by the end of the year.
More than 11.4 million people selected private health plans or re-enrolled in coverage through the nation’s health insurance marketplaces during the three-month enrollment period that ended last Sunday for most people.
But officials expect that number to dwindle to 9.1 million throughout the year as people drop coverage for a variety of reasons, including nonpayment of premiums, relocation, and changes in employment and marital status.
The enrollment period for 2015 coverage has been extended through this Sunday for nearly 150,000 others who were “in line” but unable to select health plans by last Sunday.
States operating their own insurance marketplaces, where people can sign up for private plans, are also extending enrollment deadlines for those who didn’t complete their applications in time.
In fact, Burwell said at a news briefing that the troubled website was fully operational for 99 percent of this year’s enrollment period.
As a result, 8.6 million people signed up for coverage in the 37 states that use HealthCare.gov. Another 2.8 million signed up in states that operate their own marketplaces.
“In Florida, more than 1.6 million people signed up. In Texas, nearly 1.2 million. In North Carolina, 560,000; and in Pennsylvania, nearly 472,000 people,” Burwell said.
Among states that use HealthCare.gov, Florida’s 1.6 million plan selections led the nation. Nearly half of Florida’s sign-ups – more than 756,000 – came from the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area.
“We remain optimistic that we are on a path to reach our projected 9.1 million people signed up and paying their premiums” by year’s end, Burwell said.
Nearly 80 percent of the people who used the federal marketplace could access coverage for less than $100 a month with financial assistance, or tax credits. Most of them were eligible for tax credits that averaged $268 per month, Burwell said.
Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the King v. Burwell case, which will decide whether those federal tax credits can go only to people in states that operate their own insurance marketplaces – and not to those who live in states that use HealthCare.gov.
That outcome would cause an estimated 8.2 million people to lose their health insurance, according to projections by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a public health philanthropy.
Burwell said she didn’t think that would happen, nor does she think Congress intended to make the tax credits available only in certain states.
“One thing is for sure: Americans don’t want the progress that we’ve made to be taken away from them,” Burwell said.
The Obama administration hasn’t said what it will do if the tax credits are struck down. Republican governors in five states that use HealthCare.gov have said they won’t set up their own marketplaces if a court decision causes their residents to lose tax credits.
The Obama administration hasn’t decided whether to offer a special 2015 enrollment period for people who’ll incur tax penalties for not having health insurance last year.
The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requires most Americans to purchase health insurance or face a fine, dubbed the Shared Responsibility Payment, when they file their income taxes by April 15.
Some 3 million to 6 million Americans could face the penalty this tax season, the Treasury Department has estimated.
The fine would be the larger of $95 or 1 percent of household income above the filing threshold. The fine for not having coverage in 2015 – payable in the 2016 tax season – jumps to the larger of $325 or 2 percent of income.
Democratic House Ways and Means Committee members Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Sander Levin, D-Mich., have urged HHS to give these penalized taxpayers additional time to secure 2015 coverage to avoid paying the larger penalty next year.
“A prompt announcement . . . – free of any confusing delays or exceptions – will greatly benefit taxpayers as well as the many organizations across the country working to help people enroll,” Doggett said in a statement.
“The ACA enrollment period ended before many Americans filed their taxes,” Levin and McDermott said in the same statement. “Without a special enrollment period, many people making a Shared Responsibility Payment won’t have another opportunity to get health coverage this year.”