Filed Under:Health Insurance, Individual Health

Sebelius: QHPs have 3 million enrollees

Kathleen Sebelius (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)
Kathleen Sebelius (AP photo/Charles Dharapak)

(Bloomberg) -- About 800,000 people have signed up for private “qualified health plan” (QHP) coverage through the public exchange system so far in January.

That’s pushed total Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) QHP enrollment to 3 million.

Exchange open enrollment started Oct. 1.

For now, HHS is using whether a consumer has selected a QHP, not whether the consumer has paid for the QHP coverage, as the trigger for counting the consumer as an enrollee.

The 3 million enrollee figure includes activity both at state-based exchanges and at HHS-run exchanges.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), touted the new January figures in a speech today in Jacksonville, Fla. Sebelius has been making many speeches in Florida, Texas and other large states in which Republican governors have refused to set up their own state-based insurance exchange programs.

The January enrollment total may indicate increased familiarity and interest in PPACA among people who previously had heard only about problems with the law, said Ron Pollack, executive director of the advocacy group Families USA.

When the exchange system opened in October, “people were bombarded about the politics and learned precious little about how it would affect their lives,” Pollack  said in a telephone interview. “You’re seeing a significant acceleration that is just going to be larger and larger as we move toward the end of March.”

Insurers benefit

Higher enrollment should benefit WellPoint Inc. (NYSE:WLP), Humana Inc. (NYSE:HUM) and other managed-care insurers that rely on a large and diverse patient-mix to balance out the costs of coverage. If the pace of sign-ups continues, enrollment should be close to 5 million by the end of March, said Ana Gupte, an analyst at Leerink Partners in New York.

“This is positive for HMO stocks that have made a bet in favor of the exchanges,” she said in an e-mail.

WellPoint fell 1.2 percent to $84.74 in at 12:27 p.m. in New York amid a broader selloff of stocks worldwide. Health Net Inc. (NYSE:HNT) dropped 3.5 percent to $33.54, while Humana lost less than 1 percent to $95.53.

Meeting targets

The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that the exchange system could enroll 7 million people in QHPs by March 31, when the first individual QHP open enrollment period is set to end.

“We continue to see strong interest nationwide from consumers who want access to quality, affordable coverage,” Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said in a blog post.

A Gallup poll released yesterday showed that the percentage of adults without health insurance in the U.S. fell to 16.1 percent this month, the lowest level since the end of 2012.

-- With assistance from Alex Nussbaum and Caroline Chen in New York. Editors: Romaine Bostick, Bruce Rule

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