The Obama administration said Thursday that 7.3
million people who picked health plans through the new insurance exchanges had
paid premiums and retained their coverage as of mid-August, suggesting that at
least 700,000 people who signed up for coverage earlier this year later let it
The number of people with paid-up coverage has long been the
subject of contention. Republican critics of the law had said President Barack
Obama's announcement earlier this year that 8 million people had applied for
plans through HealthCare.gov and state exchanges by the main mid-April deadline
was less important than a concrete count of how many had paid their premiums.
Paying is the final step necessary for people to enroll in coverage.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services,
which includes CMS, said the 7.3 million figure was based on reports by
insurance companies about the number of people who had paid-up coverage last
month. The difference between the number of people who had signed up by
mid-April and those who were enrolled as of mid-August suggests that 700,000 or
more dropped out because they failed to pay their first month's premium or
didn't continue to make payments.
Some Americans have been allowed to use the health exchanges
after mid-April to get coverage because of life changes affecting their
insurance, such as a divorce or job change, but the administration hasn't yet
said how many people have done so.
Turnover is commonplace in the individual insurance market,
which caters to people who don't have access to coverage through an employer or
government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The announcement came at a
hearing focused on a Government Accountability Office report earlier this week
that suggested weaknesses remain in HealthCare.gov that continue to put users'
sensitive personal information at risk. The Obama administration said it is
implementing most of the report's recommendations to strengthen the site and
will perform comprehensive security testing of it before November.
Security is just one of a number of challenges for the
administration in the eight weeks remaining until HealthCare.gov goes live
again for the second year of open enrollment under the law. The exchanges are
expected to come under considerable volume pressure this year, right from the
start of the new enrollment period on Nov. 15. The nonpartisan Congressional
Budget Office has projected that 13 million consumers will use the exchanges to
buy coverage for 2015.
The Obama administration plans to automatically renew the
coverage and tax credits of more than 5 million people who had obtained
coverage through HealthCare.gov last year, in an effort to reduce the risk of
them dropping out.
CMS has said it is planning to bolster the site for a period
of high volume, including installing a simpler application system for new users
that runs in Amazon Web Services, and swapping out the old account-creation
system, which became a significant bottleneck last year.
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