WASHINGTON – About 2.1 million people have medical coverage beginning Wednesday through Obamacare after a late surge in enrollment helped regain ground lost to the botched debut of insurance exchanges created by the U.S. health care overhaul.
More than 1.6 million Americans signed up through state and federal exchanges in December alone, according to calculations from data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The December tally is more than quadruple the first two months of the government’s sign-up period.
The December surge provides a boost to President Barack Obama, whose fumbling of the October rollout of the insurance exchanges initially thwarted the high participation needed to spread the costs of his health care expansion. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is supposed to offer private coverage to as many as 7 million people by the end of March.
“The new law is transformational for our entire health care system and for millions of Americans who finally have health security,” Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. health secretary, told reporters on a conference call.
In addition to those gaining private insurance, about 3.9 million others have been newly determined eligible for Medicaid plans for the poor, or for state children’s programs. It’s not known how many of those people actually enrolled, since that process must be completed with state governments in most cases.
In Rhode Island, HealthSource RI reported Tuesday that 4,334 Rhode Islanders enrolled through the state-run health exchange between Dec. 15 and Dec. 28, nearly doubling the total private-plan enrollment to 9,803.
The government is preparing for newly insured people to begin seeking care at doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and pharmacies beginning Wednesday, and is coordinating with hospitals and insurers to smooth the process, Sebelius said.