The rate of enrollment in the state and federal marketplaces continues to outpace the previous year despite ongoing uncertainty over the future of the health reform law.
As of Dec. 24, 11.5 million people were signed up for coverage, an increase of nearly 300,000 compared with the same period last year. Another 700,000 purchased basic health plans subsidized by federal funding for people whose income is above the Medicaid threshold but below 200% of the poverty level. Those customers bring the total new customers signing up this period to 12.2 million.
The Obama administration pointed to these number to debunk recent statements from some Republicans, including House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces are "in what the actuaries call a death spiral."
"This market is not merely stable; it is on track for growth," Aviva Aron-Dine, senior counselor to the HHS secretary said on a call with reporters Tuesday. "We can officially pronounce these death spiral claims are dead."
“Nationwide demand for health coverage is higher than ever, as Americans prove again that Marketplace coverage is vital to them and their families,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Monday, she expressed concern that no viable replacement plan to continue coverage for up to 30 million people had yet been presented by those who are looking to repeal President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law.
The HHS said it has received 35,000 calls from people asking if they should still get coverage or re-enroll. The agency reaffirmed that the ACA remains the law of the land and that coverage they signed up for before the end of the month would begin on Feb. 1.
Officials believe a strong finish will bolster the case for preserving the ACA which helped reduce the nation's uninsured rate to a historic low of about 9%.
The administration also noted that consumers were signing up whether rate increases in their states were big or small. Republicans have argued rising premiums were top of mind for American citizens.
Benchmark premiums increases averaged 22% across the HealthCare.gov site and state-based marketplaces compared with an average of 7% in increases in 2016.
“Health insurance marketplace enrollment is currently on track to continue growing in 2017, contrary to predictions that higher premiums would spur large enrollment reductions that would damage the risk pool,” a White House Council of Economic Advisers report released Tuesday said.
In fact, the Obama administration reported Tuesday that the rate of returning customers increased from 60% to 65% this enrollment period.
“This outcome should not be surprising in light of the fact that the substantial majority of individual market consumers are eligible for tax credits that are linked to premiums and, therefore, protect them from premium increases," it continued.
The large premium hike for benchmark plans has been described as a one-time occurrence to make up for under-charging plans. Future increases are expected to be more modest.
The reported enrollment bump may still not be enough to get the Obama administration to its goal of 13.8 million people by the end of open enrollment for 2017. That number was lowered from original estimates by the Congressional Budget Office which predicted 15 million people would enroll during 2017.