Obamacare Sign-Ups Stay Strong at 8.8 Million Amid Obstacles
(Bloomberg) -- Demand for Obamacare coverage remained relatively strong despite a year-long effort by President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans to gut the health law.
The number of people signing up for insurance on the federal healthcare.gov marketplace decreased to about 8.8 million in an abbreviated enrollment window, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said in a tweet Thursday. That’s down about 4.4 percent from last year, when the Obama administration oversaw the process.
“That’s a healthy number,” said Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The demand shows that people shopping on the exchange, who are mostly subsidized buyers, were undeterred by the shorter window and political uncertainty about the law’s future. “There were a lot of headwinds to sail against in this one,” Pollitz said.
The Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress failed this year to completely overturn the Affordable Care Act. But while the just-passed tax overhaul does away with the law’s requirement that all Americans purchase insurance, interest in ACA coverage was high even amid scant advertising and an accelerated timetable to pick a plan.
The 45-day signup period for Affordable Care Act coverage closed last week in the 39 states that use the healthcare.gov website. Last year, with twice as long to enroll, about 9.2 million people signed up.
A decline was anticipated after some insurers fled the Obamacare marketplace, leaving consumers with fewer choices, and others raised premiums. People who earn too much money to get federal assistance to buy coverage also faced higher prices, though the health law’s subsidies made it possible for 80 percent of people to buy plans costing $75 a month or less.
Before the enrollment period started, President Trump ended cost-sharing subsidies that insurers relied on to offset out-of-pocket charges for poor patients. The administration also curtailed advertising and promotion for the sign-up period, which was half as long as in recent years. The tax bill passed by Republicans in Congress after midnight on Wednesday would end penalties on people who opt to go without insurance, eliminating an incentive for some healthy people to buy coverage.
The market had already been shrinking toward the end of the Obama administration, with about 4 percent fewer people nationwide signing up for 2017 coverage compared to the year before.
In many of the 11 states that run their own marketplaces, enrollment so far has exceeded last year’s pace, and people have more time to shop. In New York, California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, enrollment will continue until the middle or end of January. And millions of people in hurricane-affected areas in the Southeast can continue to buy coverage through the end of December. Others may have extra time if their insurance carrier left the market.
In Washington state, where enrollment continues until Jan. 15, 230,000 people have selected plans, more than the total number that signed up last year, the state reported Wednesday.
The enrollment numbers show that the ACA markets remain an important source of health coverage for millions of Americans, even as Trump works to undo his predecessor’s legacy. The administration has said it plans to expand the use of short-term health plans and other products that are cheaper than ACA policies but offer less financial protection for those who get sick or injured.
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