By Karen Pallarito
TUESDAY, April 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) — An 11-hour surge of consumers signing up for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act pushed the number to 7.1 million participants as the first enrollment period came to a close Monday, the White House announced Tuesday.
“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” President Barack Obama announced during a speech at the White House Rose Garden Tuesday afternoon.
Obama, who championed the controversial health reform law that some call Obamacare, added: “The bottom line is this: Under this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up, and the growth of health care costs is down. And that’s good for our middle class, and that’s good for our fiscal future.”
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that Monday was a “record-breaking day of operations — with more than 3 million visits to HealthCare.gov and more than 1 million calls to the call center as of 8 p.m.”
CNN reported Tuesday that the last-minute surge of consumers included many young adults, whose enrollment is considered crucial because they tend to be healthy and their insurance premiums are intended to help cover the health care needs of older, sicker participants.
Quoting an anonymous government official, the network reported that “insurance companies were confident the percentage of young people was sufficient for the insurance marketplaces to function properly.”
The law — which the White House says is intended to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance, estimated last year to be 45 million — remains highly unpopular with Republicans.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Affordable Care Act was hurting, not helping, Americans, the Associated Press reported.
“Every promise the president made has been broken: Health care costs are rising, not falling. Americans are losing the doctors and plans that they like — especially seniors suffering under President Obama’s Medicare cuts. Small businesses are afraid to hire new workers, hobbling our economic growth. That’s why we must replace this fundamentally flawed law with patient-centered solutions that will actually lower health care costs and help create jobs,” he said.
The prospect of 7 million Americans signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act seemed unlikely as recently as last week, when federal officials were saying approximately 6 million people had registered for coverage.
Technically, some people can still sign up for health insurance even though the deadline passed on March 31. Last week, the Obama administration said that Americans who’d started applying for health insurance but couldn’t complete the process by the deadline would be given an extension. Administration officials did not specify how long the extended enrollment period would last.
Officials said the extension was being offered partly out of concern that the federal HealthCare.gov website could become overwhelmed as last-minute registrants scrambled to meet the deadline or face a penalty in the form of a tax.
The enrollment process got off to a nightmarish start back in October with the troubled unveiling of the HealthCare.gov website. Computer glitches and software problems made the website virtually unusable for long periods of time.
Critics of the Affordable Care Act pounced on the botched launch, which was deeply embarrassing to Obama. The law is considered Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states that do not operate their own registration websites, is now in a state of “transition” with new content to serve “consumers in meeting post-open enrollment needs,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Tuesday.
The new homepage will have information for consumers on enrollment if they qualify for coverage outside of the just-concluded open enrollment period. These consumers include people experiencing a “major life change, such as marriage or job loss.” There will also be information instructing consumers on how to use the new coverage, CMS said.
With some exceptions, people who are uninsured for most of 2014 may have to pay a penalty during next year’s tax season under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The maximum penalty for 2014 is $95 per adult and half of that for children (up to $285 for a family of three or more) — or up to 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater.
According to the White House, one of the main objectives of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to affordable health care options. The law led to the creation of the online marketplaces, or exchanges, where people in each state and the District of Columbia could compare health plans and sign up for coverage.
Now that the first enrollment deadline has passed, most Americans won’t have another chance to sign up for coverage until the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. Coverage purchased during that time won’t take effect until 2015.
To learn more, visit HealthCare.gov.