Washington (CNN) - The White House, which has been set back on its heels for months due to the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, is voicing some real optimism about the recent uptick in enrollment numbers, as well as the demographic trends.
“We’re very encouraged, because this is trending in the right way,” says a senior administration official. “The fact that millions have signed up is good—and it also makes it more likely that others will sign up.”
Numbers through February 1 show that 3.3 million people have now signed up since the troubled website first went online on October 1. Of those, 25% are between the ages of 18-34. When children (under 18) are taken into account, that number rises to 31%.
The expectation, says one administration official, is that “sick people are the first to sign up” and as you go through the months, the enrollees get younger and healthier. In order for the reform effort to be financially successful, there needs to be a sizable percentage of younger people who presumably are healthy in order to support the older and sicker who enroll.
One big unanswered question remains how satisfied insurance companies are with the latest results, and whether these numbers track with their expectations when they set their premiums for next year. If the numbers are generally on target, then there should be no premium shock; if they are not on target, there could be rate increases that would no doubt be unwelcome—both financially and politically.
As CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta reported Thursday, there is also some concern from insurers about those who have enrolled, but have not paid their premiums. The data on payment is not public, and some estimates, according to Acosta’s insurance industry source, range between 10-25%. An administration official tells me that there’s always a small percentage of people who don’t pay, but the source does not have any actual numbers to offer.
“I feel very good about where we are right now,” says this senior administration official, who adds that the experience with health care has been so bruising that “we treat every day like you are starting all over again.” That’s why there is a great reluctance on the part of White House officials to claim any kind of victory. Progress is all they will claim.
The challenge, this source admits, is to try and maintain an equilibrium so the administration is considered competent, which, in turn, gives people faith the program will work. This source points to the Massachusetts model as an example: As time went on, more young people signed up.
The Congressional Budget Office originally estimated that the ACA would need 7 million enrolled by April 1 in order to work properly; that number was recently changed to between 6-7 million. So the questions remain: Can the administration get there, or even close? And if it does, what is the mix of the enrollees?