Politics & Government

Nearly 1.4 million Californians enroll in health insurance exchange

Citing a large influx of customers in the final weeks, California officials announced Thursday that nearly 1.4 million people have enrolled in health coverage through its insurance exchange, capping an opening period that saw the state emerge as an example for the rest of the nation.

Nationally, according to the White House, 8 million people signed up for coverage, and the proportion of younger applicants has increased. The enrollments exceeded expectations and offered new hope to Democrats defending the law ahead of the midterm elections.

In an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room, President Barack Obama trumpeted the new nationwide figures and castigated Republicans for continuing to seek opportunities to thwart the Affordable Care Act.

“This thing is working,” Obama said of his signature domestic achievement.

Touting modest progress on another front, Obama said 35 percent of enrollees are under 35 years old, suggesting that in the final weeks of enrollment, the administration managed to sign up higher numbers of younger, healthier people who are critical to the law’s viability.

Meanwhile, Covered California officials said 205,685 customers enrolled after the exchange granted a two-week extension through April 15. About 1.2 million of the 1.39 million customers are eligible for federal subsidies.

Insurance companies report that roughly 85 percent of enrollees have paid their first month’s premium, Executive Director Peter V. Lee said.

“We are proud of what California has achieved, but recognize this is only the beginning of a long road of expanding affordable coverage to all Californians,” Lee said in announcing the tallies in Sacramento.

Of the 1.9 million Californians who enrolled in Medi-Cal through March, 1.1 million came by way of the state exchange and county officials. Despite website and phone troubles, more than 40 percent of exchange customers chose coverage online. Overall figures since Oct. 1, 2013, far exceeded the exchange’s initial projections, officials said.

Enrollment among Latinos and young people – essential groups that earlier eluded the exchange – improved in recent months as officials dedicated more resources to marketing and community engagement.

Latinos constituted 30 percent of the sign-ups in March and April, pushing the final figure to 28 percent. Similarly, enrollment among 18- to 34-year-olds ticked up to 29 percent. Federal officials have said they need 40 percent of enrollees to be under 35.

The exchange reported meeting its projection among African Americans and more than doubling its base goal for Asian Americans.

State and federal officials have not released a tally of how many enrollees were previously uninsured and are thus gaining health care thanks to the law. It’s also unclear nationally how many enrollees sealed the deal by paying their first month’s premium to the insurance companies.

Republicans seized on those uncertainties to argue that Obama is hyping figures that obscure the real damage the law is inflicting – such as higher premiums, smaller provider networks and canceled policies, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“It’s long past time for Washington Democrats to work with us to remedy the mess they created – and that means repealing this law and replacing it with real reforms that actually lower costs,” McConnell said.

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