- The Washington Times - Monday, February 1, 2016

The administration declared victory for Obamacare on Monday, saying the third year of sign-ups on the health care exchanges went smoothly and set an enrollment record, with customers younger and healthier than they have been in the past.

While final numbers were still being tallied, the administration said enrollment avoided the kinds of problems that plagued the exchanges in 2013 and 2014.

“Here’s what we know right now: It’s been a good year. Compared to last year, more consumers are signed up for coverage, more consumers actively renewed their plans and more consumers had a smooth experience at HealthCare.gov,” said Lori Lodes, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

While the administration insists the law is on solid footing, congressional Republicans have scheduled a vote Tuesday to try to override President Obama’s veto and repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Though they don’t have the numbers to override the veto, Republicans want to draw a contrast with Democrats as the presidential campaign swings from Iowa to New Hampshire and other primary election states.

“It is also just one in a number of steps we’re taking to hold President Obama accountable for the failures of this law,” said the office of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

Congress is taking action as voters begin the long process of selecting Mr. Obama’s successor. Iowa’s caucuses Monday night kicked off the Democratic and Republican nominating contests.

A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation said this year’s voters are more interested in the economy and terrorism than health care, but that hasn’t stopped the Republican-led Congress from highlighting Obamacare’s challenges.

Half of Obamacare’s co-op plans have failed, and some insurers say they are losing money by offering plans on the law’s Web-based exchanges. Meanwhile, congressional scorekeepers severely downgraded their enrollment projections for the year.

But the administration says most insurers are sticking with the health care law and that those who signed up for plans this year are younger and healthier — just the kinds of customers the market needs to entice to make Obamacare’s economics work.

“Having people of good health participating in the marketplaces will contribute to the long-term financial stability of those marketplaces,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “That’s why that was a focus of our efforts, and the early indications are that those efforts were successful.”

He said people with health problems probably signed up during the first two years, but the rising penalty for lacking insurance is finally persuading younger, healthier Americans to sign up.

The “individual mandate” tax for shirking insurance this year starts at about $700, more than double the baseline penalty for 2015.

Although the deadline for signing up was Sunday, Ms. Lodes said, customers who were waiting for help from the federal call center were asked to leave their information so representatives could help them finish later.

“This is the same ‘in-line special enrollment period’ we have used in the past,” she said.

Some of the 12 states and the District of Columbia that operate their own exchanges were more lenient.

Covered California said customers who started the process by Sunday have through Saturday to finish. The District of Columbia and Maryland offered residents extra time to sign up because of a major snowstorm that smacked the capital region a week earlier.

Marylanders who started the process have through Friday to pick a plan if they attest that weather prevented them from enrolling on time.

D.C. applicants have until Tuesday to enroll, even if they haven’t started the process.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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