Officials: Fewer than 500,000 have lost health insurance coverage

8:28 AM, Dec 20, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- Officials expect that fewer than 500,000 people may not have insurance come Jan. 1 after they received cancellation notices in October because their plans did not meet the specifications of the Affordable Care Act, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The four officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said they expect the number to be much lower by Jan. 1.

That's because, they said, many of the people who originally received cancellation letters have been automatically enrolled in new plans by their insurers; state regulators have approved their current plans on President Obama's request; insurers have presented different options to keep their customers and people with insurance have been more likely to shop for new policies to avoid gaps in their coverage.

The sub-500,000 figure counters Republican claims that more Americans will lose coverage starting Jan. 1 than will be newly insured. A report released Wednesday by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said "millions of Americans have lost and will lose their coverage" due to the law and cited 4.7 million cancellation letters.

The cancellations came after President Obama assured people they could keep their insurance plans if they wanted to. However, the health care law requires insurers to cover a minimum amount of benefits, such as prescriptions and hospitalizations. Only policies created before 2010 could be grandfathered under the law, but most insurers enroll people in new plans every year, so insurance plans for 2013 did not qualify. That led insurers to send out millions of letters stating that people had to buy new policies that met the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

On Thursday, Factcheck.org named the president's claim as one of 2013's "whoppers of the year." The site is a nonprofit consumer advocate that sorts through politicians' statements for falsehoods.

Officials also said that now the HealthCare.gov website has been fixed tens of thousands of people are enrolling in health insurance each day the federal health exchange.

Increased enrollments come as the site has improved and insurers have launched a wave of marketing campaigns aimed at signing up more customers.

The officials said the problems that bogged down HealthCare.gov through most of October and November have not scared away customers. About 73% of customers polled in December by HealthCare.gov after they enrolled in insurance said they had first visited the site at least a month ago, they said.

People must sign up by Monday to have insurance coverage that starts Jan. 1. The four officials said they expect the website to perform well as that deadline approaches, but people may encounter the queuing system. If the site is busy, people will have the option to leave an email address to be notified when the site becomes available. When those people return to the site, they'll be placed at the front of the line so they can immediately get on the site.

Officials have recommended that people call and check in with their insurers, as well as understand that the insurance does not kick in until people have paid their first premium payment.

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