Health Law Sign-Ups Keep Growing

Health Law Sign-Ups Keep Growing

In this Nov. 12, 2014 file photo, the HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, on a laptop screen, is seen in Portland, Ore. From contraception to colonoscopies, the Obama administration Monday closed a series of insurance loopholes on coverage of preventive care. The department of Health and Human Services said insurers must cover at least one birth control option under each of 18 methods approved by the FDA _ without copays. Also, insurers can’t charge patients for anesthesia services in connection with colonoscopies to screen for cancer risk. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)
In this Nov. 12, 2014 file photo, the HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, on a laptop screen, is seen in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Nearly a million people signed up for health insurance under President Obama’s law even after the official enrollment season ended, helping push the share of uninsured Americans below 10 percent and underscoring how hard it could be for Republicans to dismantle the program.

The Health and Human Services Department said Thursday that 943,934 new customers have signed up since open enrollment ended Feb. 22, benefiting from “special enrollment periods” keyed to life changes and other circumstances.

It’s a flexible feature also common to the coverage people get through work. Sign-up opportunities for those experiencing changes such as having a baby or losing a job that came with health insurance are available year-round through HealthCare.gov and its state-run counterparts.

The steadily growing number of Americans with coverage under the five-year-old law could make it more difficult for Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which some call Obamacare, even if they win the White House and keep control of Congress in next year’s elections.

Several of the GOP presidential candidates have insisted they would scrap the law, but the GOP has yet to rally behind an alternative.

Thursday’s numbers are the first since the Supreme Court upheld health insurance subsidies in all 50 states, turning back a challenge from the law’s opponents that would have undermined coverage across much of the country.

The new figures, through June 30, are preliminary and come with a couple of caveats. The final tally could be higher, because HHS counted only the 37 states using the HealthCare.gov website. Or it could dip, because the initial numbers did not winnow out customers who failed to seal the deal by paying their first month’s premium. That final count takes longer.

Nonetheless, HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan said the results are “further evidence that the health insurance marketplace is working for America’s families.”

Two surveys documented the growing number of Americans with insurance:

The government’s National Health Interview Survey found that seven million fewer people were uninsured in the first three months of this year, when compared with the average for all of 2014. The uninsured rate stood at 9.2 percent.

A large independent survey called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found a statistically significant drop in the uninsured rate for most states since the law’s big coverage push began at the end of 2013. States that embraced the Medicaid expansion saw bigger declines.

A third study raised questions about future affordability.