Anyone who has been to the post office on April 15th will know that many people tend to wait until the very last minute to do things. Signing up for health insurance on healthcare.gov proved to be no different.
While most experts predicted a last day surge it appears to have been larger than the administration expected, causing some overload issues with the website and call centers. This big final day helped push the administration to reach their original goal of 7 million. This is a significant short-term political and public relations win for the administration, which should help prove to people the early website issues have been addressed.
As a matter of policy though this number doesn’t mean much or even tell us much on its own. This is only the number of people who selected a plan. For example we don’t yet know how many will actually enroll by paying their first premium, how many signed up outside the exchanges, how many already had insurance, or the relative health of the group. These answers are more important.
The exchanges do benefit greatly from having sufficient people to create a decent size risk pool and share the cost of running the systems. Getting 7 million signups in the first year should help do that, but so would have 5 million, 6 million or 8 million. This 7 million figure wasn’t some critical logistical threshold that needed to be reached, it was mostly just an arbitrary estimate.
Of course the media is often obsessed with arbitrary goalposts so the administration should expect a week of good news from this. Getting a million more signups though probably won’t make a huge difference in the 2014 election. While it means more people are using the program, a million is still less than half a percent of the population.
Photo by Neon Tommy under Creative Commons license