Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

Despite kinks, Obamacare sign-ups move toward goal of 7M

6th January 2014   ·   0 Comments

(Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Richmond Free Press) – A steadily increasing number of people are signing up for Obamacare — a big plus for the president and his signature program.

More than one million people have secured health insurance policies through the new program, President Obama an­nounced last week.

That’s a large jump. By the end of November, only 365,000 people had enrolled for private insurance through new federal and state markets set up under Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act.

“That is a big deal,” President Obama said in touting the sharp increase in the number of uninsured people who have signed up for coverage. “That’s why I ran for this office.”

Separately, officials said 3.9 million people have qualified for government health care through the Medicaid expansion provided by the law. Even so, the president indicated it was too early to say that the health care program has turned the corner in popularity.

HealthCare.gov, the website for the program, has been troubled and was down for hours before the president addressed reporters December 20.

Largely hidden from consumers, another set of technical problems is frustrating health insurance companies. Most report that the government continues to send them inaccurate data on some individuals enrolled. That could create problems for some patients trying to use their new coverage. Consumers might show up at the pharmacy counter or doctor’s office only to be told they’re not in the insurance company’s system.

That’s not the only potential issue. Administration officials are scrambling to prevent breaks in coverage for more than 4 million people whose individual policies were canceled this fall because they did not meet the law’s requirements.

An estimated 500,000 have yet to secure new coverage. The administration has said that those individuals would not be penalized for remaining uninsured and would have access to special bare bones catastrophic insurance plans. President Obama wants the system to be working on New Year’s Day when the first enrollees can start using their new policies.

Wednesday, Jan. 1, also is the day that insurance companies would be barred by the law from turning away people because of pre-existing medical conditions. The law also mandates that virtually all Americans have health insurance, though people can avoid a tax penalty if they pick a plan by March 31.

That mandate only applies to people who do not have health insurance through their job, are not enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid or the military insurance program or do not have coverage through a family member.

The stakes are much higher now than Oct. 1 when that the president’s political reputation was tarnished by website woes and insurance cancellations. The risk now is that ordinary people with pressing medical needs will suffer harm if the transition to coverage is fumbled.

If that happens, President Obama’s ramrod for the program, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, would face a new round of de­mands for her resignation.

“Implementing the website is the relatively easy part,” said Mark McClellan, who oversaw the problematic rollout of the Medicare prescription drug benefit for President George W. Bush. “Im­plementing the coverage itself involves a lot more things that could go wrong.

“It was possible for people to wait a month or two to use the website,” McClellan added. “People who need care on Jan. 1 are not going to be able to wait a month or two to get it.” McClellan is now a health policy expert with the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.

President Obama remains optimistic. In the first three weeks of December, more than 500,000 people signed up through the federal website, he noted. On Oct. 1, only a handful managed to enroll successfully.

Crossing the one million mark was a milestone, but the administration’s own estimates called for 3.3 million to enroll by Decem­ber 31. The target now is seven million by March 31.

This article originally published in the January 6, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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