Three reasons ObamaCare is up

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ObamaCare’s enrollment in its second year is at 11.4 million people, a total far exceeding the 7 million who signed up last year.

That figure is also expected to rise with more than a dozen states still finalizing their enrollment counts. Already, key states like Texas, Arizona, Indiana and Ohio have doubled their enrollment figures.

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The good news has given the administration something to tout ahead of arguments at the Supreme Court next month in a case that could determine the healthcare law’s future.

Some voices say enrollment is still a bit disappointing, given lower than expected figures in California. Critics worry many people who lack insurance are still not being found.

But overall, the news has been good for the administration. Here’s three reasons why it is getting better numbers for ObamaCare 2.0:

A functioning HealthCare.gov

The first year of ObamaCare enrollment was largely defined by its barely functional, $2 billion website, HealthCare.gov. The mess of glitches prevented millions from logging on and made headlines nationally.

This year, the site functioned much better. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell on Wednesday said it “was up 99 percent of the time.”

The website saw its busiest-ever day on Feb. 15, which was the final day to enroll for coverage in 2015. In all, 32.5 million people visited the website since November, showing a much stronger system.

Poorly managed state exchanges, like that in Maryland, also rebooted in 2015. Traffic on Maryland’s site increased 300 percent and enrollment on the exchange nearly doubled.

“We really could not be more pleased with how it’s going,” Caroline Quattrocki, the executive director of Maryland’s exchange, told reporters Wednesday. “Last time around, we had to focus on the website working. Now we can really drill down on who’s left out there.”

While there were still some hiccups, the disaster of 2013, when only a handful of people registered for healthcare when the site opened, was not repeated.

“Not having two months of bad IT – and bad publicity about bad IT – is definitely helpful,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president of the consulting group Avalere Health.

New faces

The Obama administration tapped Burwell to take over at the agency after flak from Democrats over last year’s botched rollout.

In a marked change from her predecessor, Burwell handed over control of ObamaCare signups to a small team of officials, rather than relying on broad oversight across the department.

Kevin Counihan became the marketplace’s CEO while Andy Slavitt, the well-known HealthCare.gov guru, became the agency’s deputy administrator.

The new lineup created a stronger chain of command that Burwell said allowed her team to flag new issues faster.

“Whenever I was out on the road, by 5:30 that afternoon, the input from those stakeholders would be discussed by us,” she told reporters. “We’ve been trying to keep turning that crank quickly.”

Burwell and her team are likely to get credit from the White House for this year’s smoother enrollment period.

A more targeted outreach

After millions of people gained insurance for the first time last year, the administration shifted its focus to groups who were more likely to remain uninsured –  Latino and black populations.

HHS nearly tripled the amount of dollars spent to reach Spanish speakers, relying on networks TeleMundo and Univision and running ads during popular telenovelas.

To reach black communities, the government paid for ads during NFL games as well as on hip hop and rap stations on Pandora and Radio One.

On the ground level, advocacy groups said the enrollment drive occurred largely at the local level compared to last year’s large-scale national outreach.

“They definitely focused really heavily on navigators and in-person assistance,” Pearson, the healthcare consultant, said.

Still, Pearson said she was expecting higher enrollment tallies and said it was clear that many states had trouble finding the people who remained uninsured.

“We haven’t seen the incremental growth in the market,” she said. “Honestly I think total enrollment was a little disappointing.”

California’s enrollment tally came in below its target, and it was surpassed by Florida as the state with the most signups.

“I certainly don't have a mission accomplished banner over the aircraft carrier here,” Diana Dooley, California’s health secretary, told reporters Wednesday. “There are very many challenges to this grand experiment that we are now four years into.”