- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2016

Roughly 11.3 million people have selected private plans on Obamacare’s exchanges, according to a government update released Thursday that for the first time includes 2016 signup data from all of the states.

The Health and Human Services Department said about three quarters — 8.6 million — had signed up through Jan. 2 on the federal HealthCare.gov website that serves 38 states, while 2.7 million had shopped on portals run by 12 states and D.C. as of Dec. 26.

HHS is poised to trump its modest goal of 10 million enrollees in 2016 with room to spare before open enrollment concludes on Jan. 31, although customers must pay their first month’s premiums to effectuate coverage, and enrollment can drop off for nonpayment or other reasons throughout the year.

Administration officials cited “unprecedented demand” on the Web-based exchanges — where customers can qualify for taxpayer subsidies that make their premium bills more affordable — just one day after the Republican-led Congress approved a bill that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, forcing President Obama to wield his veto.

“We’re encouraged that marketplace consumers are increasingly young, engaged and shopping for the best plan,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said. “We have more work to do before the next deadlines and our focus continues to be the consumer experience and educating consumers about available financial assistance and their choices.”

Officials said more than a quarter of customers — 3 million — were aged 18 to 35, a relatively healthy demographic that’s needed to reduce risk in the marketplace and keep premiums in check.

Customers are also shopping around, HHS said, as about half of the 8.2 million customers who were renewing coverage for 2016 logged on, checked their profiles and actively selected a plan instead of automatically re-enrolling.

Despite those metrics, the Gallup polling company said Thursday that the nation’s uninsured rate essentially remained constant over the course 2015 — a sign that the overhaul’s progress has plateaued, despite a 5.2-percentage point drop in the uninsured rate, from 17.1 percent to 11.9 percent, between the final quarters of 2013 and 2015.

“The sharp drop in the uninsured rate seen in the first year after the insurance exchanges opened has leveled off in the second year, with smaller declines seen in 2015 compared with 2014,” Gallup said. “This validates concerns that similarly large reductions may not be possible in the future because the remaining uninsured are harder to reach or less inclined to become insured more generally.”

The administration has pushed for large, GOP-controlled states like Texas and Florida to embrace Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid.

Many conservatives say augmenting their programs would make them unsustainable, however, even if would certainly reduce the national uninsured rate.

Florida and Texas led the way in exchange signups as of Dec. 26, with about 1.6 million and 1.1 million, respectively. New customers accounted for just under a third of the signups in each state.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday his chamber can do better than Mr. Obama’s reforms, and it will be “going on offense on ideas” in the coming year.

He’s vowed to unveil a plan to replace “every word” of Obamacare in 2016, although it is unclear if the House will actually vote on a plan before the November elections.

For now, he is celebrating the fast-track budget bill that guts Obamacare and defunds Planned Parenthood for one year as punishment for its abortion practice and handling of harvested fetal tissue. It passed, 240-181,on Wednesday, and will head to the White House.

Mr. Ryan said he doesn’t expect the president to sign a bill that scrap his namesake law, although the effort outlines a “clear choice” for voters who want to see changes in 2017.

“This will require a new president,” he said. “We’re going to have to offer a real agenda to the country.”

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