- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2014

Five million people have now signed up for health plans through Obamacare’s exchanges, the administration announced Monday, arguing they are seeing a last-minute surge of interest ahead of the March 31 deadline.

Officials said more than 1 million people visited the federal HealthCare.gov website this weekend, and 4 million visited last week, producing hundreds of thousands of new enrollees.


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“As this historic open enrollment period enters its final weeks, millions of Americans are finding quality, affordable coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” said Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The administration is racing the deadline, hoping to sign up enough people to make the economics of Obamacare work.


They need to add millions of new customers — and particularly young, healthy Americans — into the system in order to cover the costs of older, sicker Americans who can no longer be denied or limited in their coverage, thanks to the law’s requirements.

Ms. Tavenner didn’t release an updated count of how many younger Americans were among the surge of enrollees, though as of the end of February the rate was well behind what analysts said was necessary.

The government also hasn’t said how many of those who have enrolled have actually paid their premiums — the real measure of how many have coverage — nor have officials said how many of the enrollees were uninsured before, versus those who lost their coverage thanks to other provisions in the law.

Initially, the administration had agreed with analysts who said at least 7 million people needed to enroll in the health exchanges or state-based marketplaces where those without insurance can shop for plans. But after the federal website stumbled in the early weeks, the administration discounted that target.

Still, in the waning days, the sign-up rate is increasing. It took 20 days for the last 1 million to sign up. By contrast, there were fewer than 1 million sign-ups in all of February.

Under Obamacare’s individual mandate, Americans must have health insurance by the end of March or else they will have to pay a penalty in their 2014 taxes.

Last week, however, Republicans said they’d discovered a loophole that will allow anyone who claims a “hardship” to refuse to sign up and still not have to face a penalty. The new hardship exemption was added to the forms in December, but went unnoticed by analysts until last week.

“Frankly, I think the American people deserve some explanation as to what the White House really is doing,” House Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters last week.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the 5 million people who have signed up for health plans are all evidence for why the GOP’s efforts to repeal the law are a bad idea.

“Each new enrollee is a reminder of the real, human cost of each of the 51 Republican votes to repeal or undermine this legislation,” she said.

Mr. Obama’s allies are ramping up their efforts to try to boost the number of enrollees, as are administration officials. Mr. Obama has done town halls focusing on Hispanics, while first lady Michelle Obama has encouraged women to sign up and to get their adult children to sign up, too.