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Enrollment growth in Obamacare health insurance slower than expected

Reflecting slower than anticipated enrollment growth in health insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has lowered its estimate of how many people will get coverage through the law in 2016.

In any given month this year, about 13 million people on average are now expected to be enrolled in a health plan purchased on a marketplace created by the law, often called Obamacare.

That is down from 21 million people previously estimated by the budget office, whose projections about the impact of legislation are closely watched by both parties in Washington.

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The lower enrollment number brings the budget office closer in line with the Obama administration, which scaled back its own enrollment targets for 2016, citing the difficulty of reaching new consumers who have not so far taken advantage of the marketplaces.

The insurance marketplaces, a key pillar of the health law, allow people who do not get coverage through an employer to shop among plans that must meet basic standards and cannot turn away customers with preexisting medical conditions.

Those making less than four times the federal poverty level — about $47,000 for a single adult or about $97,000 for a family of four — qualify for federal aid to offset their insurance premiums.

The lower enrollment numbers have fueled some criticism from Republicans, who continue to argue that the heathcare law should be repealed.

Administration officials and other supporters of the law counter that the slow enrollment growth partially reflects some of the law’s success.

Polls and other surveys have shown a dramatic decline in the nation’s uninsured rate since the health law’s coverage expansion began in 2014, with some 17 million previously uninsured Americans getting coverage through marketplaces, Medicaid and other sources.

So far this year, enrollment has shown signs of increasing further over 2015. The 2016 open enrollment period closes at the end of January.

The Congressional Budget Office did not update its estimates of how many people would enroll in health coverage in future years.

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