It's Monday, just in time for Christmas, and the deadline for Americans to sign up for health insurance through President Obama's health care law is upon us. Well, sort of.
Dec. 23 was supposed to be the deadline for individuals to sign up for health insurance through Obamacare if they want to be covered at the start of the year (actually, the deadline was originally supposed to be Dec. 15). Now it turns out that there's really a double-secret deadline that will give Americans an extra day to sign up, until midnight on Christmas Eve.
Under pressure from the Obama administration, insurers have also agreed to allow individuals until Jan. 10 to pay for coverage starting Jan. 1.
Once the dust settles, there will be several important metrics by which to judge the law.
During a news conference, Obama said that a half a million Americans enrolled through the federal healthcare.gov website serving residents of 36 states in the first three weeks of December. This would represent a faster pace than October and November, the first two months of open enrollment, when the Department of Health and Human Services reported that roughly 365,000 Americans signed up in all 50 states. However, even assuming that the pace also picked up in the state-based exchanges, this would still leave Obamacare far short of the 3.3 million enrollments that were expected by the end of this month.
It's also worth keeping in mind that thus far, HHS has not released data on how many people actually paid for their first month's premiums, a necessary final step for somebody to be officially enrolled in a plan. Thus, the actual enrollment figure could be much lower than HHS and Obama have suggested.
Furthermore, it's important not only that the site signs up new consumers, but that the exchanges have a good balance of healthy and sick enrollees into the exchanges. Originally, HHS had been aiming for 40 percent of the 7 million enrollees expected by the end of the March 31 open enrollment period to be of the young-and-healthy demographic, enabling insurers to offset the cost of covering older and sicker participants. But as I noted in my latest column, the risk pool isn't a national one, meaning that there will have to be a critical mass of healthy participants in each of the states plus the District of Columbia.
Either way way, when evaluating the law, it's important to measure it against its original goals rather than against the pathetic state it was in during October given the rocky rollout.