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Obamacare aces final exam

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Friday, May 2, 2014
Posted: 6 am ET

School's out for Obamacare following its tempestuous, but ultimately triumphant, inaugural open enrollment period, ushering in a summer break of reflection, website retooling -- and OK, maybe a little gloating from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

© zimmytws/Shutterstock.com

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan bastion of financial projections on Capitol Hill, has assumed the role of teacher in grading President Barack Obama's first test of his signature health insurance reform law.

Based on the Affordable Care Act's performance during open enrollment, the CBO now says that Obamacare over the next decade will cost $104 billon less than the agency had originally projected in 2009.

A 15 percent surprise

The CBO has based its revised estimate on actual premium prices posted to the new state-based health insurance exchanges. The price of the benchmark "silver" plans in 2016 is expected to average $4,400 -- 15 percent lower than the analysts had forecast earlier.

White House press secretary Jay Carney couldn't stifle a smile, calling the CBO report "welcome news" for the administration's historic reform law.

"It shows that marketplace health care costs have gone down, because premium estimates have gone down," Carney told the press corps in a briefing.

The CBO report came on the heels of the administration's walk-off home run March 31, when a last-minute rush to purchase health coverage through the exchanges put Obamacare sign-ups over the CBO's original 7 million prediction, which it downgraded to 6 million in February. (On Thursday, the administration reported a final tally from open enrollment: 8.02 million.)

Off-season tinkering

The exchanges remain open for online window-shopping and special enrollment periods until the next open enrollment period begins on Nov. 15.

Meanwhile, tinkering continues behind the scenes of the exchanges. As you may recall, Obamacare offers each state three options:

  • Build your own exchange.
  • Partner with the feds to build one.
  • Simply stand aside and let the feds do it.

During open enrollment, 36 states chose door number three, defaulting to the federal site, HealthCare.gov.

While HealthCare.gov certainly had its issues handling that kind of traffic at startup, some state-built exchanges didn't fare too well either.

The Oregon fail

Last week, Oregon officials threw in the towel and unanimously voted to scrap their disastrous Cover Oregon exchange and switch to HealthCare.gov, the first state to do so. After the state invested $248 million in the project, Cover Oregon failed to enroll a single private insurance customer online, although it did manage to sign up 70,192 using paper forms.

On a brighter note, Oregon made great strides in expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, enrolling more than 172,000 low-income Oregonians, including 130,000 through a new fast-track program.

Here's one more look at that Obamacare victory lap.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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