Health

Obamacare Started Accepting New Signups Again — And Four Good Things Happened

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Stravato

The second open enrollment period for the health insurance law kicked off this past weekend to relatively little fanfare. After its highly publicized first round of enrollment, the law isn’t commanding quite as much attention this time around. That’s partly because fewer people are expected to sign up in 2015. And it also may reflect the fact that the general atmosphere surrounding enrollment is different now.

While the beginning of last year’s enrollment period was marked by catastrophic website glitches that prevented people from signing up, as well as general uncertainty about how the law was going to work, the outlook is a little brighter this year. Here are four pieces of good news going into the law’s second sign-up period:

1. There haven’t been major issues with HealthCare.gov so far.

While the first day of enrollment wasn’t altogether free of technological issues — some users had issues logging into their accounts, and others received inaccurate estimates for the subsidies available to help them buy plans — HealthCare.gov hasn’t had the same kind of major problems that plagued the site last year.

CBS News reported that the website was “functioning relatively smoothly” this weekend, while the Washington Post concluded that the process was “generally working.” The Wall Street Journal noted that the federal enrollment site opened for business this weekend to “largely positive reviews,” as people were able to create an account in just minutes — compared to last year, when the process took hours or even days. Even Fox News acknowledged that HealthCare.gov ran “smoothly” on its opening weekend.

2. Shoppers have significantly more plans to choose from.

After a successful enrollment push last year, more insurance companies are now interested in offering their plans in the new marketplaces. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 77 new insurers are selling plans in the marketplaces in 2015 — a 25 percent increase from last year. A recent USA Today analysis calculated that about 75 percent of the counties participating in the federal health care marketplace have at least one more insurance plan to choose from compared to last year. Experts are emphasizing that the increased competition means that the Americans who are already enrolled should shop around to ensure they’re getting the best deal.

3. Premiums haven’t skyrocketed.

Although enrolled Americans could see price increases if they stick to their current plan and don’t check out any of their other options, Obamacare premiums are actually lower than expected for this enrollment period. A Center for American Progress analysis found that, in states with federally-run marketplaces, premiums will increase by an average of just 3.9 percent from 2014 to 2015. That’s significantly lower than the average rate of premium growth before the law took effect; between 2008 to 2010, for instance, the national average was a 10.9 percent increase in the private market.

4. Business owners are more optimistic now that they’ve seen how Obamacare works.

There’s been a lot of concern over how the law will end up affecting the business sector, which has been facing increasing health costs for years. Last year, conservative critics predicted that Obamacare would cause companies to suffer profit losses and scale back on hiring. But this year, now that small business owners have seen how the law is functioning, they’re not as concerned. A new Bank of America survey finds that, while business owners used to report a lot of anxiety about how Obamacare would affect premiums, they’re “less worried about health care now that they’ve seen what insurance under the health care law looks like and costs.” In fact, many business leaders have recently expressed hope that the GOP-controlled Congress won’t make big changes to the law.