More than 7 million people had signed up for health insurance through Affordable Care Act exchanges as Monday night’s deadline arrived, according to White House estimates. That is remarkable in light of the disastrous rollout of the online federal enrollment system in October.
With 7.04 million people signed up, the government actually exceeded the goal of enrolling 7 million during the initial sign-up period. And that number doesn’t include the last-minute surge of enrollments that occurred in the 14 states running their own insurance marketplaces. (South Carolina elected not to set up its own marketplace.)
These, of course, are very raw numbers, and no demographic breakdowns are available to show how many of those who signed up are healthy young adults vs. elderly people with existing health problems. We don’t know how many were previously uninsured or how many will finalize the deal by paying their premiums.
And, perhaps most significantly, we don’t know how many of the new customers will end up liking the policies they bought.
Nonetheless, the surge of new sign-ups indicates considerable consumer interest in finding quality, affordable health insurance. And these numbers don’t include the children up to age 26 who are able to stay on their parents’ plans and hundreds of thousands of others who qualified for health care coverage under an expanded Medicaid program.
While the glitches affecting the online system and call centers were far less troublesome than those that plagued the initial launch, people still encountered problems as the deadline neared. Many of those problems were due to so many people trying to enroll at the last minute.
But those who tried to sign up on the federal exchange but couldn’t have been given a grace period to enroll. State-run exchanges also are extending sign-up periods for those who started but didn’t finish.
Obamacare’s critics – and they are legion – say the numbers are deceiving, that they represent millions of people who will lose their current plans only to pay higher premiums to get new ones, often losing their doctors in the process. But hard statistics indicate that the percentage of uninsured Americans already has declined as a result of the Affordable Care Act, and, while tens of millions remain uninsured, the number is shrinking.
The Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with a large segment of Americans, and a centerpiece of the Republican strategy for retaining the House and taking back the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections is a promise to dismantle the program. But with more than 7 million people already signed up for insurance through Obamacare and, presumably, millions more signing up in the months ahead, it becomes less and less likely that Americans will accept the idea of eliminating the program without having something better to replace it.
In other words, rather than just railing about the evils of Obamacare, the critics might have to come up with a workable alternative. Otherwise, Americans might decide they like the insurance they’ve got.