Remember back in May 2013 when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 7 million Americans would sign up for 2014 coverage through the Affordable Care Act's online exchanges? That was before all those error messages that marked the fumbled rollout of HealthCare.gov.
The agency now says the total number of Americans who will enroll in health insurance for 2014 through the Obamacare marketplaces will be 6 million, according to an updated estimate.
The CBO reduced its original projection by 1 million due to the "significant technical problems that have been encountered in the initial phases of implementing the (Affordable Care Act)," the nonpartisan agency said in its latest analysis.
About more than glitches
A problem-plagued website may not be the only culprit for the revised estimate, says Deborah Chollet, a health insurance research leader at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
"There's always that wild-card variable," she says. "It's not that fewer people have approached the marketplaces, it's just that when they do approach the marketplaces, we're finding there's a relatively high probability that they're Medicaid-eligible." In other words, they sign up for the health insurance program for the poor instead of an exchange plan.
The budget office also projects that the ACA will reduce the number of full-time employees in the U.S. workforce by approximately 2.3 million through the year 2021. That's because Obamacare's tax credits available to lower-income Americans increase as income decreases, which would encourage people to work less. The law's tax credit subsidies lower the cost of insurance purchased through the exchanges.
The GOP pounces
Republicans took the CBO report as an opportunity to drive their argument home that President Barack Obama's signature health reform law is damaging the economy.
"For years, Republicans have said that the president's health care law creates uncertainty for small businesses, hurts take-home pay, and makes it harder to invest in new workers. The middle class is getting squeezed in this economy, and this CBO report confirms that Obamacare is making it worse," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says in a statement.
The White House issued a statement Tuesday asserting that the CBO report doesn't take into account several ways Obamacare positively impacts the economy, such as by slowing the growth of health care costs and improving workers' access to health care.
"(The) CBO's findings are not driven by an assumption that ACA will lead employers to eliminate jobs or reduce hours," says Jay Carney, White House press secretary.
Last-minute enrollment blitz likely
Obamacare's March 31 deadline to purchase health insurance is just shy of two months away, and a sign-up surge on the exchanges is expected as the big day nears, Chollet says.
"HealthCare.gov is working quite well," she says. "Some of the states that have had problems are finally getting things to work … and they appear to be enrolling significant numbers of people."
Total exchange enrollment is projected to reach 13 million in 2015 and 22 million in 2016, according to the CBO.
What are your thoughts on the new projections for Obamacare?
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