At least 8 million people have signed up for health insurance through Obamacare, President Obama announced this afternoon in what amounted to his second ACA-themed victory lap at the White House this month.
The total number of enrollees has been serving largely as a shorthand for the law's initial success since the federal website stumbled (and stumbled again, and again) out of the gates this past fall. But despite that embarrassing start, the president and his allies are now more or less yelling the political equivalent of "scoreboard!"—and probably with good reason given the beating they took late last year. Embarrassment.gov aside, the White House can say now say it didn't just live up to enrollment expectations, they bested them with plenty of room to spare.
The newest batch of enrollment numbers is the latest evidence of just how big the eleventh- (and, in some cases, technically thirteenth-) hour surge in enrollments actually was. This is well-covered ground by now, but it's worth a trip down memory lane: Only six people signed up for coverage on the first day healthcare.gov was open, a figure that climbed to only a little more than 100,000 in the site's first month. Even with the website trouble aside, the administration and its allies steadfastly maintained that they had always expected to see a sharp rise in the number of enrollments late in the game, and that's more or less what happened. Fast-forward to the end of February, and enrollments were at 4.2 million and climbing fast.
According to the White House, total enrollment through the federal and state exchanges exceeded 6 million with about four days to spare before the original March 31 deadline, before surging above 7 million and, ultimately, now past 8 million before all was said and done (thanks, at least in part, to a two-week extension). The original CBO projection, for comparison, had been for 7 million enrollees, a figure it later downgraded to 6 million following the disastrous website rollout. Depending on which one of those you want to use, enrollments exceeded expectations by either about 14 or 33 percent.
Still, the law won't sink or swim solely on the total number of people who signed up for coverage. There's still a looong way to go. As important as how many enrolled is exactly who did the enrolling. The president offered some good—but not great—news today on that front for his allies. He said that about 35 percent of those people who were enrolled through the federal exchange—which serves 36 states—were under the age of 35. (That's the key demographic given those people are young and presumably healthy, meaning they should help offset the costs for older, sicker enrollees.)
That figure is right in the middle of the 30 percent figure reported early in the open enrollment period, and the roughly 40 percent that the administration had hoped for. (As Politico points out, that figure includes children who are covered in these plans; the 18–34 bracket makes up about 28 percent of the 8 million enrollees.) It remains to be seen exactly what impact that will have on the risk pool.
This post has been updated.