ObamaCare enrollments fell from 1.1 million in January to 942,000 in February, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Tuesday.
The administration remains optimistic it will see a surge of enrollees prior to the March 31 enrollment deadline. HHS said an “action-forcing” event, like the end of an open enrollment period, “often results in a spike in enrollment activity.”
On a conference call with reporters, HHS assistant secretary Nancy Delew noted that February was a short month, and January’s data included a few days from late December, when a flood of consumers rushed to sign up for coverage that started in the new year.
Still, enrollments fell short of the 1.3 million HHS had projected for February.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said “projections are constantly changing,” and that the agency believes it’s “on the right trajectory” for March.
More than 4.2 million people have enrolled in ObamaCare as of March 1, HHS confirmed.
The number of people who have actually purchased coverage is likely significantly lower. Analysts estimate that as many as 20 percent of enrollees haven’t paid their first month's premium, meaning that roughly 840,000 of that 4.2 million do not actually have insurance coverage.
The administration has also said it doesn’t know yet how many enrollees already had an insurance plan, and how many are obtaining coverage for the first time. Conservatives have cited studies that indicate many of those obtaining coverage under ObamaCare were previously insured and argue that this means the law is falling short of its goal to enroll as many of the uninsured as possible.
HHS said the number of 18- to 34-year-olds held steady in February at 27 percent and remains at 25 percent overall. The administration said Tuesday it also expects the number of young enrollees to increase in March.
A spokesman for House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Ohio) said the numbers show the administration’s efforts to enroll young people are “too little, too late,” and further evidence the individual mandate should be delayed.
“The administration won’t tell us how many people have actually paid for a plan or how many were previously uninsured,” Brendan Buck said in a statement. “But what we do know is that young adults — those who the White House repeatedly said are critical — are deciding the healthcare law is a bad deal. Now, millions stand to be forced to pay a new tax because of this law. Given these dismal enrollment numbers, the president needs to work with Congress to get rid of this year’s individual mandate penalty.”
The enrollment data comes with less than three weeks left in open enrollment. It seems increasingly unlikely that the administration will hit the original Congressional Budget Office projections of enrolling 7 million people between October and March.
That projection was downgraded to 6 million following the early troubles with HealthCare.Gov, and officials have sought to temper expectations since the botched rollout essentially shaved two months off of the six-month open enrollment period.
During Tuesday's conference call with reporters, Bataille was asked repeatedly if the administration expected to hit the 6 million mark. She declined to answer, saying only that the administration expects “millions more” will sign up eventually.
But experts say it’s not the sheer number of ObamaCare enrollees that will determine the law’s success, but rather the breakdown of healthy versus sick consumers that are signing up.
ObamaCare needs as many healthy enrollees as possible to maintain a balanced risk pool that keeps premiums from spiking in 2015. That makes young people, who skew healthier, the most critical demographic for the administration in the final stages of the first open enrollment.
Experts disagree about what the proper ratio of young to old should be, with some saying the administration is in good shape at 27 percent, while others arguing it needs to be closer to 40 percent for the law to perform optimally. The administration originally forecast that 38.5 percent of total enrollees would be between 18 and 34.
The administration has made the targeting of young consumers one of its top priorities but is also focusing on other demographic groups at this late stage. This week, the administration is urging women and moms to be proactive in signing up their families.
The last two weeks they sought to rally African-Americans and Hispanics around the law.
— This story was updated at 5:10 p.m.