New enrollment for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) marketplace exchanges is ahead of schedule through the first six weeks of open enrollment this year, a strong rebuke to continued right-wing predictions that low enrollment and the closure of a few health insurance cooperatives would prove the law is a failure.
On December 9, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the latest figures on health insurance enrollments through Healthcare.gov. CMS reported over 1 million new customers have signed up for health insurance and that 1.8 million more renewed their plans through the exchange marketplace during the first half of this year's enrollment period. According to The Hill, CMS had only targeted 900,000 new insurance customers for the entire 2016 enrollment period, which ends on January 31. CMS administrator Andy Slavitt told The Hill “I'm a pretty conservative guy, and I'm encouraged by the start we've had.”
According to The New York Times, interest in enrollment is high with six more weeks to go before the sign-up period ends and “call centers have been deluged with requests from others eager to enroll.” While not everyone who signs up will ultimately decide to pay their premiums and receive coverage, early reports indicate that the health insurance marketplaces established by the ACA are on-target to meet their coverage expansion goals by the end of the year.
These positive early reports on enrollment numbers offer a stark contrast to right-wing media claims that enrollments this year would falter and that the law is failing to meet expectations. In November, several conservative outlets latched on to stories about the planned closure of a few health insurance cooperatives as proof that the president's signature health care reform law was in a “death spiral” and on the verge of collapse. In October, The Wall Street Journal responded to sharply revised 2016 enrollment estimates by claiming that Obamacare “won't survive.” The Journal ignored that part of the government's estimate adjustment was the result of more people than expected staying on employer-sponsored health care plans as the uninsured rate fell to a record low of 11.4 percent. The Journal then used their dire predictions about Obamacare to push floundering Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's plan to repeal the law.
This is not the first time right-wing media have made false claims about the ACA or grim predictions of the law being a failure. During the 2014 enrollment period, Media Matters chronicled so-called health care "truthers" who suggested that participation numbers were too high and may have been made up. Fox's Sean Hannity claimed that the Obama administration was “cooking the books on this thing,” and that millions of applications for enrollment had “appeared out of thin air,” while other Fox personalities claimed insurance signups “magically” hit their enrollment goals. Right-wing media held so deeply to this false enrollment conspiracy that they confusingly declared victory and impugned Media Matters when, in late 2014, CMS announced that a minor accounting error for exchange-approved dental plans had overstated the number of enrollees by just under 6 percent.