(by Sam Baker, National Journal)
Monday is a big day for Obamacare: It’s the deadline to sign up for health insurance that begins Jan. 1.
There are still another three months to buy coverage, but a lot of people need it on Jan. 1. It’s an important deadline for people with preexisting conditions who had been priced out or overtly locked out of the individual insurance market and are now eager to get covered. And it’s an important deadline for the millions of people whose insurance policies were canceled because of the Affordable Care Act.
Both groups were largely unable to shop for new plans in October and most of November, when HealthCare.gov was mired in technological problems. The White House has reported an enrollment surge in December, ahead of the deadline to sign up in time for Jan. 1—the earliest possible start date for plans sold through the law’s insurance exchanges.
Critics have raised the possibility that because of plan cancellations and the broken website, more people will have lost coverage on Jan. 1 than gained it.
That is probably unknowable—one has a reliable estimate of how many plans were canceled. The White House says only about 500,000 people had their plans canceled and are now without coverage, while Republicans have put the total number of plan cancellations well into the millions.
The end of December also marks the halfway point in the six-month window to sign up for coverage through the exchanges. Given the website’s disastrous launch, the administration will surely fall well short of its pre-launch expectations. The Health and Human Services Department had estimated that 3.3 million people would sign up for private insurance by the end of the year. It was 3 million people short of that mark at the end of November.
We won’t know until January how many people signed up in December. It probably won’t be 3 million, but administration officials say they’ve seen a surge with the website repaired and the Dec. 23 deadline looming. The first two days of December alone saw roughly 29,000 enrollments—more than in the entire month of October.