With the final two weeks before the March 31 deadline fast approaching, enrollments in health care plans through healthcare.gov and the various state sites have only reached 5 million, well short of the goal of 7 million enrollees. What’s more, only 27 percent of those enrollees appear to fall into the crucial “young invincibles” demographic.
As the deadline rapidly approaches, many questions about the law and what the future holds continue to be raised. There has clearly been no shortage of controversy, so these final weeks will ultimately be important ones.
For starters, the potential for a delay in the “individual mandate” continues to be a serious question. While the administration has given no indication that this is likely to happen, the fact that Obama has previously caved on elements of the law like the “employer mandate” and some of the requirements for individual plans has left the door open for speculation that he will retreat again in the face of millions of angry, unenrolled people facing tax penalties.
What’s more, the technical issues that plagued the website immediately after its launch have to raise more questions. While they appear to have been resolved, what if a rush in volume in the final two weeks overloads the system again? If many late-comers fail to sign up in time because of technical glitches, will Obama be forced to extend the deadline? The prospect of charging a tax penalty to people whose failure to enroll stemmed from a website that failed to function properly could represent precisely the sort of red meat Republicans would love during crucial mid-term elections this November.
However, there could be reason to anticipate a late rush, and particularly a late rush of exactly the sort of enrollees that are so crucial to the law. When looking at the rate of enrollment in Massachusetts in 2007 after that state passed a similar law, enrollments ramped up sharply in the final months, and the percentage of those enrollees falling into the 18-34 demographic also jumped sharply.
All told, with 13 days remaining to sign up for insurance, much appears to remain up in the air. Much has been made of the potential “death spiral” that could result from too many high-cost enrollees, but it’s not as clear precisely what mix of ages and health statuses would create such a situation.
Regardless, the data on enrollments over the next few months will ultimately be important to watch as it will clearly impact both the potential success or failure of the program and the mid-term elections.
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