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HealthCare.gov performs better the second time around

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WASHINGTON — A late surge lifted the number of people enrolling for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to nearly 2.5 million since mid-November.

More than 1 million signed up in the last week of open enrollment before the December 15 deadline for full-year coverage in 2015. The enrollment figure, which excluded the final three days before the deadline, made the week the best ever for the federal online insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov.

“People were ready to get covered, and the vast majority are having a good consumer experience,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “Millions of Americans want access to affordable, quality health insurance and they came to the marketplace to find it.”

Open enrollment continues on HealthCare.gov through February 15, but people who sign up after December 15 will not get coverage until February or later.

In the last three days before the deadline, as many as 500,000 out of 1.6 million people contacting the federal call center heard automated messages and left their names. “Our call center and our technology have done their jobs so far,” said HHS principal deputy administrator Andy Slavitt.

More than 3 million people visited HealthCare.gov over the last three days, and top volume on December 15 was 125,000 concurrent users, said Slavitt. The site was not overrun, he said, noting that a waiting room page deployed for about 90 minutes did not affect most users.

About half of those choosing health plans in the fall period were new customers, and half were renewing coverage or switching to a different plan. Millions of people who took no action to extend their 2014 coverage will have it automatically renewed.

Some 6.7 million people had obtained insurance through the federal and state exchanges prior to the latest sign-up period. The new numbers indicate that the Obama administration can easily exceed its 2015 goal: 9.1 million people insured and paying premiums. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had projected a total of 13 million.

According to a new analysis by the Avalere Health consultancy, enrollment will reach 10.5 million people by the end of 2015, though the figure could fluctuate up or down by approximately 1 million.

“All together, total 2015 enrollment is tracking between 9.5 million and 11.5 million, including people renewing their plans,” said Avalere vice president Caroline Pearson. “While 2015 enrollment may fall short of CBO estimates, it is still likely to exceed the administration’s ­projections.”

Sign-ups will probably lag behind CBO projections because of demographics, limited public awareness and higher-than-expected attrition rates, according to Avalere.

But Dan Mendelson, the consultancy’s chief executive officer, said, “Growth in 2015 enrollment is helping to solidify the exchanges as a viable commercial market for health plans and consumers. There are still millions of low-income people who will benefit from federal subsidies — an important incentive to drive growth provided they have the information to make informed decisions.”

Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, said the ACA has contributed to slowing growth in overall health spending.

“Ten, 15 years ago, you saw double-digit premium growth,” he said. “You saw businesses warning about the threat that health costs had to America’s competitiveness, to our economy. Now you’re seeing the slowest health cost growth in 50 years, premium growth dramatically slowing from what it was ­before.”


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