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ObamaCare is finally in the clear
At least in terms of the dreaded "death spiral"
 
ObamaCare isn't perfect, but it is working.
ObamaCare isn't perfect, but it is working. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/T.J. Kirkpatrick/Corbis)

ObamaCare, we were told in October, had proven itself to be an unworkable train wreck. Four months later though, the health care law is chugging right along.

The latest ObamaCare enrollment figures, released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, offer more good news for the Obama administration. Roughly 1.15 million people signed up for coverage in January, pushing the total number of enrollments since the exchanges went live in October to 3.3 million.

Of note, January was the first month in which enrollments outpaced the administration's projections. The White House expected 1,059,900 would sign up for coverage in the first month of the year, so the actual total beat that figure by almost 90,000.

Now, the enrollment tally comes with a few big caveats. The raw number doesn't show what percentage of enrollees have made their first payments, nor does it indicate the percentage who already had health insurance. And we still don't know exactly what premiums will look like once the whole system is up and running.

Still, the enrollment totals dispel the biggest concern about ObamaCare: that it would collapse due to low participation. Enrollments almost certainly won't hit the administration's original 7 million target, but they should come close; the Congressional Budget Office estimates they'll come in at about 6 million. And at 3.3 million, the enrollment pool is already "large enough for the market to function," MIT economist Jonathan Gruber told Politico.

But what of the fear that the pace of enrollments is slowing? Over at The Weekly Standard, Jay Cost points to a 29 percent drop off in enrollments from December to January.

Indeed, there was such a steep drop, but it was entirely expected. The administration predicted a surge of enrollees in December, as people rushed to get coverage that kicked in on January 1, followed by a comparative lull this month. And again, enrollments in January outpaced the government's expectations.

And what about that dreaded death spiral? Young people, who are crucial to ObamaCare's success, made up just 24 percent of enrollees last year, well below the administration's 40 percent goal.

Enrollment among that demographic ticked up to 27 percent in January. Though that's still below the desired level, it's not low enough to be too problematic. A December Kaiser Family Foundation study found that even in a worst case scenario with "young invincibles" making up just one-quarter of all enrollments, premiums would only rise marginally, or "well below the level that would trigger a 'death spiral.'"

So the death spiral is already off the table. And that's before the expected March spike in young adult enrollment. Lots of healthy younger folks are believed to be procrastinating for now, waiting until the last minute to sign up.

In another bit of good news for ObamaCare, a Gallup survey out this week found the uninsured rate falling to its lowest level since 2008. Though it's too early to draw a causal relationship between the health care law and that trend, the downturn is at least "more consistent with a story of success than the story of failure conservatives keep telling," wrote The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn.

Now, ObamaCare does still have its warts. The White House has delayed several provisions, most recently punting, again, on the employer mandate. That unilateral delay, John Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post, was an act of "astonishing royalism," and underscored the fact that the administration "couldn't get things to work because ObamaCare is unworkable."

"This law is a lemon," he added.

True, the health care rollout has been marred by some screwups and technical glitches. But, as the steady improvements have shown, ObamaCare isn't unworkable; it's working. The new enrollment figures are turning that lemon into lemonade.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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