- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2016

The administration mocked the Obamacare repeal bill sent to the White House Thursday, saying Congress had accomplished “nothing” and boasting that the health law is doing even better than expected.

Roughly 11.3 million people have selected private plans on Obamacare’s exchanges for 2016, the Health and Human Services announced — putting the administration on solid footing to meet its modest goal of 10 million paying customers this year. Not all of those who select plans will retain coverage for the whole year, but with nearly a month to go before the cutoff, having more than 11 million names in hand is encouraging.

Administration officials said about three quarters of the customers — 8.6 million — had selected a plan on the federal HealthCare.gov website by Jan. 2. Another 2.7 million had signed up on portals run by 12 states and D.C. as of Dec. 26.

The White House said the pace of sign-ups undercuts the latest GOP repeal effort — a bill President Obama will veto.

“They’ve voted 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This is the first time that it has reached the president’s desk, but it has no impact,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

There are signs that Obamacare’s progress is stagnating on its own, however.

The Gallup polling company said the nation’s uninsured rate essentially remained constant over the course 2015, 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,” the pollsters 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 move the needle by embracing Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, yet conservatives say they could not sustain an influx of enrollees.

For now, administration officials are claiming “unprecedented demand” on the web-based exchanges, where customers can qualify for taxpayer subsidies that make their premium bills more affordable.

HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan also said the rising tax penalty for lacking insurance was a “very strong motivator” to enroll, citing reports from in-person assisters across the country.

The individual mandate penalty for 2016 is $695 or 2.5 percent of qualified income — more than double the 2015 tax.

HHS 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.

Mr. Ryan said rising rates and a lack of health care choices in many parts of the country prove the law will collapse under its own weight in the long run, though Congress will push to scrap it outright with a Republican president in 2017.

He said they’ve proven they can do it, too, by using a fast-track budget process that allows them to pass a revenue-related legislation on a majority vote in the Senate, bypassing a potential Democratic filibuster.

The bill would also defund Planned Parenthood for one year as punishment for its abortion practice and handling of harvested fetal tissue.

House lawmakers approved the package, 240-181, on Wednesday, and the Senate acted in early December, so the bill will head to the White House.

Having proven it can repeal Obamacare, Mr. Ryan said the House will unveil a long-overdue alternative this year, though Democrats are skeptical.

The office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday blasted out a list of 20 times, stretching back to 2009, that Republicans have said “a so-called replacement was imminent.”

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