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Sebelius: 2014 marks ‘new day’ for Obamacare

7 million sign-ups ‘never our target number,’ adviser says

Brushing aside Obamacare’s ongoing problems, the president’s top health official said Tuesday that 2014 marks a “new day in health care for millions of Americans,” with more than 2 million people having enrolled as of Saturday and nearly 4 million learning in the first two months of the rollout that they’re eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The White House also sought to rewrite longstanding goals for sign-ups on the health exchanges, disputing the 7 million enrollees target that’s long-been accepted as the number of Americans needed by March 31 in order for the economics to work.

“That was never our target number,” White House health care adviser Phil Schiliro told MSNBC. He said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has cited the figure because it had come from the Congressional Budget Office — Congress’ nonpartisan budget scorekeeper — “and it had become an accepted number.”

For her part, Mrs. Sebelius took a victory lap ahead of the new year by focusing on Obamacare’s strides of late, with no mention of the people who may have lost plans that did not meet the law’s coverage requirements.
“The new law is transformational for our entire health care system,” Mrs. Sebelius said.

She said about half of the 2.1 million people who selected private plans through the Affordable Care Act did so through HealthCare.gov, the federal portal that serves the 36 states that did not set up their own health exchange.

New Year’s Day has been a red-letter date on Capitol Hill for months, after it became clear that millions of people in 2014 would lose bare-bones plans that didn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act — despite Mr. Obama’s repeated and emphatic vow that people could keep plans they liked under his law “period.”

GOP lawmakers jumped on the false promise, placing Democrats up for re-election next year in peril.
Officials could not say Tuesday how many of the 2.1 million who have signed up were newly insured, versus those trying to sustain their coverage because the law’s impact on the insurance market kicked them off an existing plan.

Mr. Obama tried to walk back the consequences of the cancellations by urging insurers to renew their bare-bones plans or allowing people who lost coverage to apply for a hardship exemption from the law’s requirement that all Americans hold some form of health coverage.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, released a report Monday that said the number of people who were unable to regain coverage after receiving a cancellation notice is likely under 10,000, or 0.2 percent of the estimate made by opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

“This new report shows that people will get the health insurance coverage they need, contrary to the dire predictions of Republicans,” said Mr. Waxman, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Sticking to good news, Mrs. Sebelius reminded people on a Tuesday conference call that 3 million young adults up to age 26 will have coverage through their parents’ plan, and that consumers will no longer be denied coverage for having pre-existing medical conditions.

“Tomorrow those days are coming to an end,” she said.

Administration officials acknowledged that some “transitional” issues may arise after the ball drops and brings a tumultuous 2013 to a close.

The debut of Obamacare on Oct. 1 was marked by rampant glitches on HealthCare.gov and some of the 15 state-run web portals tied to the law, a rocky experience that left the fate of the reforms in doubt before technical improvements were completed.

HHS officials said call-center personnel will be on hand to assist people who tried but failed to enroll in coverage in time for Jan. 1, and reminded consumers to check with their insurer to make sure that they are covered.

Consumers might be able to get proof of insurance before they obtain their physical insurance card, they noted.

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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