Half a Million Sign Up for Obamacare in First Week

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What a difference a year makes. More than 460,000 people signed up for health insurance on the federal government’s website during the first week of open enrollment, officials said Wednesday. And there were no outages or other technical glitches.

More than 3 million people visited Healthcare.gov during that first week, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters. “We have seen more than one million people speak with one of our call center representatives,” she said. “We’re off to a solid start.”

About half of those signing up so far are renewals, Burwell said. Open enrollment — the time when people can sign up for health insurance or change their policies — runs through Feb. 15.

“We’re off to a solid start.”

This time last year the site, open for the first time ever, was barely creeping along. It crashed on the first day. The government ended up having to widen the enrollment window until it extended into April. In the end, just under 7 million people enrolled in private health insurance offered on the website.

The health exchanges are a centerpiece of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. They are meant to be a mechanism for getting more Americans covered by health insurance and in turn, getting regular medical care. This year, 37 states use the federal exchange. The others are operating their own.

The disastrous rollout of the federal exchange, and many of the state exchanges also, turned into a political crisis for the Obama administration. HHS ended up firing the main vendor who put together the site and a whole new team is in charge of the revamped rollout, from the secretary — Burwell has replaced Kathleen Sebelius — to the new role of exchange chief executive. Kevin Counihan, who headed up Connecticut’s successful health insurance exchange, is CEO of Healthcare.gov.

HHS says this time around about 25 percent more private insurance companies are offering policies. Because insurance is regulated by the states, each state has different offerings and policies usually vary county by county within a state.

More than a million people have submitted applications for policies, HHS says. The federal government expects about 9 million people to sign up for health insurance on the new online exchanges this year — four million fewer than projected by the Congressional Budget Office just this spring.

"Every day we are making progress," Burwell said.

But the law’s already started to have its intended effect. HHS says 32 million Americans now lack health insurance, about a quarter fewer than this time last year. The percentage of the population lacking health insurance plummeted from an all-time high of 18 percent in the fourth quarter of last year to 15.6 percent at the start of this year.

"Every day we are making progress."

The law’s changes are getting people covered not only by helping them buy insurance on the exchanges —often with hefty federal subsidies — but with the expansion of Medicaid in 27 states plus Washington, D.C. Governors of 21 states have said they’re definitely not expanding Medicaid, while Indiana and Utah are debating it.

In addition, it requires big employers to offer health insurance, and prevents health insurers from dumping patients because they’re sick or have used up too many benefits.

Republicans have pledged to repeal the law, although most experts say they really cannot, even with new GOP control of the Senate after the midterm elections.

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