‘Unprecedented’ demand for ObamaCare on key deadline day


Federal health officials say they are seeing an “unprecedented” demand on the ObamaCare marketplace on the final day for people to get insured and avoid hundreds of dollars in fees.

Traffic on spiked to an “all-time high” of 185,000 simultaneous customers Monday night, and demand continued to soar Tuesday morning, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

{mosads}“During this period of unprecedented traffic, remained open for business and ready to sign people up for 2016 health plans,” Lori Lodes, a spokeswoman for HHS, said in a statement.

New York’s state-run marketplace, one of the largest in the country, extended its deadline on Tuesday after a “high volume of activity.”

The state marketplace fielded 170,000 calls last week, with 43 million page views on its website since Nov. 1.

“This deadline extension will give New Yorkers the extra time they need to select an affordable coverage plan that’s right for them,” NY State of Health Executive Director Donna Frescatore said.

Officials in California, who manage the country’s largest state-run marketplace, also reported a flood of interest Tuesday.

“Once again, Covered California is seeing an incredible surge of interest, and thousands of people are enrolling at storefronts, insurance agent offices and community centers across the state every day,” Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, said in a statement.

The surge in demand is a signal that people are paying attention to the massive hike in fees for those who remain uninsured in 2016.

The Obama administration has specifically warned of the rising penalty in calls, emails and appearances in local media in recent weeks, after two years of focusing its outreach on the carrot — healthcare coverage — rather than the stick — fees for not having insurance.

The cost of going without insurance will rise to at least $695 next year, a jump from this year’s minimum of $325.

“It got people’s attention,” Kevin Counihan, CEO of the federal marketplace, said in an interview with NPR. “And there seemed to be more of a discussion in their head about whether it made sense to pay the penalty and not get something for it.”

The deadline is midnight Tuesday to sign up for coverage through ObamaCare that begins on Jan. 1, though this year’s open enrollment runs through Jan. 31.

With more than 1 million calls Monday alone, some customers were unable to get through and were asked to leave their phone numbers so that officials could call back after the deadline. Those customers will be given extra time to complete their applications while still meeting the Dec. 15 deadline.

The administration set a goal of having 10 million people with health insurance through ObamaCare by the end of 2016, adding just 900,000 to last year’s total. Officials said a total of 2.8 million people signed up for coverage as of Dec. 5 — about one-third of whom are new customers — though not everyone who did so will end up paying their premiums.

Tags Health insurance in the United States Kevin Counihan Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
See all Hill.TV See all Video