It’s been over a month now since the health care insurance marketplaces opened online, and both supporters and opponents have been desperately waiting to find out exactly how many Americans were able to enroll, guaranteeing they will be covered by insurance as of January 1, 2014.
The numbers at first glance aren’t very good. Just over 100,000 uninsured managed to purchase plans, far less than the 500,000 that the Obama administration hoped there would be at this point. But that number ignores the more optimistic news that nearly 850,000 applications have been completed, which would cover 1.5 million newly ensured Americans.
Two big numbers will be hammered by those who have opposed the Affordable Care Act every step of the way ó that less than 110,000 people have been able to complete their applications and that†only a quarter of them purchased insurance via the federal health care exchange. However, the fact that the number in the federal exchange is so minuscule should surprise no one. The Healthcare.gov site was glitch-ridden and had constant accessibility issues, in part because it couldn’t handle the massive traffic sent to it, but also because it was pushed live before it was ready. Those who would be using the federal exchange also would be residents of the 36 states that refused to create their own state-based market, as well as states that refused to expand Medicare eligibility, a key factor in allowing many to be able to afford the new insurance premiums.
In comparison, while there were only 27,000 completed applications on the federal exchange, there were three times as many applicants on roughly one dozen state exchanges. Minnesota itself enrolled nearly 11,000, thanks to both a working website, Medicaid expansion and some of the lowest insurance rates in the country.
The administration says that they do still believe that by the end of November the website will be working “smoothly,” which will enable many more people to enroll and be covered for January 1. That hasn’t caused a moment’s pause for the GOP, who immediately jumped on the public numbers as another sign that the Affordable Care Act should be shelved.
“[T]his report is a symbol of the failure of the president’s health care law. It is a rolling calamity that must be scrapped,” Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told Fox News.
Republicans have long been clamoring for the exchanges to be dismantled, but now Democratic allies are starting to murmur that changes should be made as well. A number of high profile Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have begun urging the administration to allow those who are insured to keep their insurance, even if their plans don’t cover all of the basic care required by the reform overhaul in the Affordable Care Act. For some, that would keep them paying for what is essentially no coverage at all, as well as allow insurance companies to continue denying those with preexisting conditions, charging extra based on gender, and the myriad of other unfair business practices that the ACA was meant to address.
Now, the administration, under intense pressure from both parties, has responded with a new plan to allow all insurance plans to “grandfather” in for another year, even if those plans don’t cover all the essential health care elements under the new reform. States who are running their own exchanges will get to decide individually whether or not to allow these grandfathered plans to be optional within their own borders.
As the GOP uses the newest enrollment numbers to justify their war on affordable and fair insurance coverage, it’s important to remember that three years and 46 “defund Obamacare” stunts later, there still has yet to be any introduction of an alternative way to reform health care, expand insurance to the uninsured, or protect Americans from being crippled financially simply because they became ill, had an accident, gave birth or got old.
And obviously, they never will.
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