The Affordable Care Act's second open enrollment came to a close on Sunday, and with enrollment topping 7.5 million people in the federal exchange alone, we asked three Motley Fool healthcare experts to offer up their key takeaways from Obamacare's second go-around.
Dan Caplinger: One of the most surprising revelations about Obamacare is just how few Americans have actually participated in open enrollment. According to government figures, as of Feb. 6, almost 10 million people have signed up for health insurance through federal or state exchanges since Nov. 15, when open enrollment began. That's ahead of the goal that the federal government set for itself, but it represents just a small portion of the total U.S. population. That confirms that the primary impact of healthcare reform has been extremely targeted on a group that previously had little access to insurance, while leaving the vast majority of the American public either with whatever coverage they had previously or with alternatives they found more palatable than the exchange offerings.
Rather than being a failure, though, many will see Obamacare's limited scope as a victory. By drilling down on those who really need insurance, the Affordable Care Act disrupted existing insurance availability to the minimal extent possible. Meanwhile, as penalty provisions start to kick in, the hope among the law's advocates is that more people will go ahead and sign up for healthcare coverage, further enhancing the exchanges' efficiencies. There's still considerable uncertainty, especially with respect to whether courts will uphold subsidy provisions across the nation. Yet for a young law, Obamacare has done reasonably well and still has further to go.
Keith Speights: Affordable care -- or at least the perception of it -- appears to still be elusive for many Americans as the second open enrollment period under Obamacare winds down. At least, that's the finding from a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Nearly half (48%) of uninsured adults didn't sign up for health insurance because they thought the coverage was too expensive. However, only 29% of uninsured adults actually applied for Obamacare coverage before determining that obtaining insurance was too costly.
The thought behind Obamacare was that federal subsidies would bring the total cost down enough to make health insurance affordable. According to the Kaiser survey, however, 42% of the uninsured Americans who first applied for coverage before opting out because of the cost appeared to be eligible for federal subsidies.
As financial penalties for not having health insurance ratchet up, some of these currently uninsured individuals could decide that paying for insurance is less expensive than the alternative. For now, though, millions of Americans still lack what they consider to be affordable care.
Todd Campbell: One of the biggest industries threatened by the Affordable Care Act has become one of its biggest beneficiaries.
Investors fled insurers ahead of Obamacare's 2013 launch, only to return to the industry last year, when it became evident that rising exchange enrollment and Medicaid expansion had proved to be a bigger boon than expected.
Anthem (NYSE:ANTM), the nation's second biggest insurer, has been one of the biggest winners. Anthem offered health insurance through the exchanges in 14 states during the first enrollment period, and thanks to better-than-expected membership and cost trends, as well as surging Medicaid enrollment, Anthem reported adjusted net income of $8.85 per share in 2014. Those results were well above the $8 forecast the company issued exiting 2013.
Anthem expects that ACA momentum will continue in 2015, too. The company is guiding for investors to expect that it will deliver adjusted net income of $9.70 this year. If it does, then Anthem should have plenty of financial flexibility to keep returning money to investors. In January, Anthem announced that it's increasing its quarterly dividend payout by 43% to $0.625 per share this year. If Anthem continues to profit from reform, that dividend increase may prove to be the first of many.