Despite a dismal start in October, more than 2 million people have enrolled in private health insurance that could begin today under the Affordable Care Act, Obama administration officials said Tuesday.
“Tomorrow, Jan. 1, will be a new day in health care for millions of Americans,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
Another 3.9 million people who went to the Health Insurance Marketplaces were deemed eligible for their state’s Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Programs, she said. Another three million younger than 26 were able to stay on their parents’ coverage because of the law, White House Senior Advisor Phil Schiliro said.
Officials were also quick to point out new provisions of the law that take effect today, such as banning lifetime limits on coverage and preventing insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
“Every time I travel, I meet folks who have been locked out or priced out of coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition,” Sebelius said Tuesday. “And tomorrow those days are coming to an end.”
It will also end the practice of some insurers charging women higher premiums simply because they are women, she said.
“Starting tomorrow, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition,” Sebelius said.
Of the 2.1 million who enrolled in private plans, about half did so through the troubled healthcare.gov Web site, officials said. The six-month enrollment period is actually only half over – the final deadline to enroll is March 31.
“We expect those numbers will continue to grow over time,” Sebelius said.
While they touted the enrollments, officials also acknowledged that the difficult work of actually getting people access to care begins today.
Sebelius said the drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens have agreed to provide transitional prescription coverage to those who can show proof of enrollment in a plan, and the administration has met with insurance plans and providers to try to ensure a smooth transition to the new coverage.
But Schiliro said there are always transitional bumps in the road at the start of the year and when big programs, such as Medicare Part D, begin. That program’s first few weeks were fraught with headaches for pharmacists and patients who didn’t have their cards, couldn’t verify their coverage or couldn’t get through to their insurance companies. Schiliro acknowledged those same transitional problems could be ahead for the Affordable Care Act.
“The insurers, the pharmacies, the hospitals have become very good at handling that (transition),” he said. “Usually, there is not a spotlight on what they are doing. Obviously, over the next few days, there will be. Problems that have never gotten attention before will get some attention now.”
Patients are advised to call their insurance company first if there is a problem, but the government is also staffing a round-the-clock call center if more help is needed, officials said.