19 state exchanges expect 8.5M enrollees

At least 8.5 million people could enroll in health insurance exchanges operating in 19 states, according to a new USA Today survey. Of that total, California said it expects 5.3 million people to enroll in its online marketplace.

The newspaper reached out to all 50 states, 19 of which estimated the amount of people who could seek health coverage through the online marketplaces opening for enrollment in October. The predictions are based on each state's uninsured rate, how many state residents may be insured by an employer, what insurers in their states expect and conversations with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary about reasonable goals, USA Today reported.

"Having a target and having a metric to reach that target is important," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the newspaper. "I'm optimistic we'll have millions of people sign up. We've been working a long time on this."

The Congressional Budget Office originally predicted 7 million people would enroll in the exchanges, but later adjusted its estimate, forecasting 1 million fewer consumers would seek coverage under exchanges. And that's for all 50 states.

"For the most part, that's a very good thing," Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, said of the USA Today survey findings. "First, these are people who need health insurance. And second, the scenario that only sick people will enroll is less likely."

However, insurers might not want to get overly confident about this enrollment prediction. "I think 7 million is a realistic goal," Kathleen Stoll, deputy executive director of Families USA, told USA Today in a separate article. "I don't want to underestimate the difficulty of getting to that goal because of disinformation."

Sebelius herself admitted the challenge of enrolling consumers in the marketplaces. "There will be glitches in some states, and some states will take off," she said. "This is a continuous self-improvement project."

That's why HHS is prepared to change its marketing and promotional activities, including altering scripts at exchange call centers or applying some states' successful campaigns nationwide, if consumers don't sign up for an exchange during the six-month enrollment period.

To learn more:
- read the USA Today articles on enrollment predictions and exchange promotions

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