HHS projects 13.8M ObamaCare signups for 2017

HHS projects 13.8M ObamaCare signups for 2017
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The Obama administration projected Wednesday that 13.8 million people will sign up for ObamaCare coverage next year, a modest amount of growth in what officials acknowledge is likely to be a challenging year. 

The coming signup period, which begins Nov. 1, is an important test for the healthcare law as the administration tries to bring in more young and healthy people to counter insurer concerns about having a smaller and sicker group of enrollees than expected.

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The projection of 13.8 million signups is up from the 12.7 million who had signed up by the end of last year.

Enrollment is projected to be far below the original numbers from the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated there would be more than 20 million people enrolled by this time. 

Still, the projections are better than some fears about enrollment even declining next year, as some people dropped out due to premium hikes. 

A Standard & Poor’s report this month, for example, projected that a lower number, between 11.7 million and 13.3 million people, would enroll this year.

The projections come at a challenging time for ObamaCare. Insurers have been dropping out due to financial losses, reducing choices for consumers, and many places have seen steep premium hikes.

In a speech Wednesday, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said that this is a “transition period” for the marketplace. 

“Issuers are adjusting their prices, bringing them in line with actual data on costs,” she said, according to prepared remarks.

And she said the coming signup period is an opportunity to strengthen the law by boosting signups by healthy people. 

“Of course, the biggest opportunity we have to strengthen the marketplace with a bigger, healthier risk pool is right in front of us — this upcoming open enrollment,” she said. “This is the last open enrollment for this administration. We’re going to make it count.”

The number of young enrollees has stayed flat between 2015 and 2016, but officials are hoping to increase it through better outreach this year. They do not have a projection for the percentage of young enrollees next year, though.

Some enrollees drop out throughout the year and don't pay their premiums. Using numbers for people actually paying premiums, the HHS projects enrollment to grow from 10.5 million on average this year to 11.4 million next year. 

The HHS is no longer giving a goal for the number of enrollees remaining at the end of 2017, instead using the average enrollment for each month. "We're not moving the goalposts; we're just using what we believe is a more meaningful metric," said HHS Assistant Secretary Katie Martin.   

Officials also emphasize that financial assistance eases premium increases for 85 percent of enrollees. But another 15 percent, as well as roughly 7 million people who buy individual coverage off the marketplace, are fully exposed to the premium hikes.   

Burwell said she hopes for improvements to the law from Congress. 

“We are hopeful that soon, we’ll see more bipartisan efforts to make improvements,” she said.