Sebelius: Obamacare Is Success If 16.9% of Uninsured Enroll by End of March

By Susan Jones | October 1, 2013 | 9:35am EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.(CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told NBC News on Sept. 30, 2013 that success, in her opinion, would be having 7 million Americans enrolled in the Obamacare exchanges by the end of the six-month open-enrollment period.

"I think success looks like at least 7 million people having signed up by the end of March 2014," Sebelius told NBC's Nancy Snyderman.

But 7 million is only 16.9 percent of the 41.3 million Americans who, according to HHS, are currently uninsured and eligible to get coverage through the exchanges or expanded Medicaid/childrens' health programs.

HHS says of the 41.3 million individuals who are currently uninsured and eligible for coverage, 23.2 million (56 percent) may qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or tax credits on the exchanges to purchase coverage for $100 or less each month.

But policies with low premiums come with high deductibles:

"It's a debate," Sebelius told NBC. "Do you want to have protection for basically every checkup, every visit, everything that you do -- or do you have a situation where you are making a determination where you and your family don't use medical services that much and you want to make sure you have protection if something really goes terribly wrong?"

Is it reasonable to think middle-class families can afford as much as $5,000 or $6,000 in deductibles, Snyderman asked.

"Well, I think that families can  make a budget choice," Sebelius responded. "If that isn't something that clearly they can pay for, and a lot of people couldn't pay for that out of pocket, they will want a lower deductible."

Sebelius admitted that "there is a lot of confusion" surrounding the new Obamacare exchanges. 'I think we bear part of the responsibility of not being able to get through a lot of the noise," she said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, tax credits will be available to help individuals and families afford insurance coverage through the health insurance exchanges. Those tax credits will be paid in advance to help defray the cost of the premiums. In addition, some states are expanding Medicaid eligibility for low-income adults.

The new Obamacare exchanges allow individuals and families to shop for coverage by comparing their options at the Healthcare.gov website. The application will tell them if they qualify for tax credits or Medicaid. Call centers will also help the uninsured shop for coverage.

The actual insurance coverage begins on January 1. Open enrollment ends on March 31, 2014, and after that, people without health insurance will be fined by the IRS. (HHS calls this a "shared responsibility payment.")

On Tuesday, the first day of enrollment, there were delays at Virginia's Health Insurance Marketplace: "Please wait," the message said. "We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!"

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