Obamacare Sign-Ups Stay Strong in Week 2 Despite GOP Pushback

(Bloomberg) -- Americans signed up for Obamacare at a brisk pace for a second straight week, an early sign that Republican efforts to repeal or undermine the law earlier this year may have backfired.

Americans enrolled in almost 1.5 million Affordable Care Act health plans on healthcare.gov in the first 11 days of the open enrollment period, a 47 percent increase over a similar period last year.

The numbers came out just as Republican lawmakers made a last-minute addition to their tax bill that would eliminate the law’s requirement that all Americans have coverage or pay a fine -- a policy known as the individual mandate.

It’s hard to gauge what the acceleration means for the Obamacare marketplaces overall, because consumers have only half the time to enroll in plans on healthcare.gov this year. Even a stronger-than-expected start could end with fewer people signing up by the time the window closes Dec. 15.

Obamacare Sign-Ups Stay Strong in Week 2 Despite GOP Pushback

The early numbers indicate that consumers haven’t been deterred from seeking health coverage. About 23 percent of the 1,478,250 people who selected plans from Nov. 1 to Nov. 11 were new to the marketplace, according to data provided Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The rest were returning consumers. Healthcare.gov operates the Obamacare insurance markets for 39 states.

Last week California, New York, Massachusetts and other states reported a quicker pace of enrollment compared to last year. But Obamacare is facing headwinds this year from higher premiums and cuts to federal subsidies that reimburse insurers for lowering out-of-pocket costs. The Trump administration has slashed outreach and promotion for the law, while grassroots liberal activists have taken up the cause of promoting it.

Saving Money

With the repeal of the mandate, Senate leaders are targeting an important but unpopular element of the law to free up money for tax cuts. Scrapping the penalties for those who don’t buy health insurance could save the government $338 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Without the requirement to have insurance coverage, healthier people would be more likely to drop out of the market -- in total the number of uninsured would rise by an estimated 13 million. That would push average premiums up by about 10 percent compared to what’s currently projected, according to the CBO.

The shock wouldn’t send the marketplaces into a death spiral, however. The individual market would remain stable “in almost all areas of the country” over the next decade, the CBO said in a report this month.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.