By Alex Wayne
By Alex Wayne
WASHINGTON - About 800,000 people have signed up for private health plans through Obamacare in January, pushing total enrollment to 3 million as negative perceptions about the program give way to more practical needs.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, touted the January figures in a speech Friday in Jacksonville, Fla., which add to the 2.2 million who enrolled from Oct. 1 through December. Her agency later said in a blog post that “as our outreach efforts kick into even higher gear, we anticipate these numbers will continue to grow.”
The acceleration may indicate increased familiarity and interest in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act among people who previously had heard only of its problems, said Ron Pollack, executive director of the advocacy group Families USA. Public opinion about Obamacare plunged after the Oct. 1 debut of the insurance exchanges greeted consumers with website breakdowns, higher prices and potentially broken promises.
“People were bombarded about the politics and learned precious little about how it would affect their lives,” Pollack, whose Washington-based organization has been promoting the health law, 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.”
Higher enrollment should benefit WellPoint Inc., Humana Inc. 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 email.
WellPoint fell 1.2 percent to $84.74 in at 12:27 p.m. in trading on the New York Stock Exchange amid a broader selloff of stocks worldwide. Health Net Inc. dropped 3.5 percent to $33.54, while Humana lost less than 1 percent to $95.53.