Obamacare Enrollments Near Goal, But It’s Too Soon to Announce Victory

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For Obamacare, the proof is in the numbers. The Obama administration announced late on Monday that so far, in March, 800,000 Americans signed up for health insurance via the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act. That brings total enrollments to 5 million, with less than two weeks remaining for the six-month sign up period that ends on March 31. After that date, those individuals who do not purchase Obamacare-compliant policies, and do not qualify for the hardship exemption, will be fined a tax penalty amounting to $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, in 2014 — an amount that will increase through 2016.

“With only two weeks to go, we’re continuing to work hard to ensure that every American who wants to enroll in affordable coverage by the deadline of March 31 is able to do so,” wrote Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Marilyn Tavenner in the Monday news release announcing the enrollment figure.

Originally, before the October 1 launch of the marketplace system, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that as many as 7 million people would enroll by March 31. But after the federally-created online insurance marketplaces launched with software errors and design flaws that for weeks caused hours-long wait times that prevented potential customers from creating accounts and completing the 30-step enrollment process, as well as sending insurers the wrong information, the CBO lowered the estimate to 6 million. In the final months of last year, administration documents obtained by Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California showed that in the first day after the federal online marketplaces went live, just 6 people nationwide had actually enrolled for insurance plans. By the second day, that number had only risen to 248.

Those low figures not only spurred Republican criticism, but put into question whether the enrollments would reach the administration’s targets. During the series of congressional hearings that followed the glitch-riddled exchange rollout, those responsible for overseeing the creation of the reform’s exchanges — including Tavenner and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — expressed confidence that enrollment numbers would gain momentum as the signup deadline approached.

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