December 26, 2017
In the 39 state exchanges in which residents are able to take advantage of the federal HealthCare.gov website to enroll in Obamacare—more formally known as the Affordable Care Act Program—8.8 million Americans signed up for insurance for 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced on December 21.
The six-week open enrollment period in those 39 states, plus the state-run exchanges in Idaho and Vermont, ended December 15—but 10 more states, as well as the District of Columbia, enforce later deadlines and people in many states can still enroll through federal exchanges under special circumstances.
About 18 million Americans in all used the Healthcare.gov website between November 1 and December 15. Among Spanish speakers, 680,000 used CuidadDeSalud.gov and 470,000 spoke with a representative by telephone. Nearly 2 million Americans “window-shopped,” but did not buy on the site.
In the last week of open enrollment, over 4.1 million people selected plans using the HealthCare.gov platform or were automatically re-enrolled in a plan. The total, CMS.gov said, likely will be at least slightly higher than 8.8 million, because the agency is still processing some applications.
The 8.8 million is down about 4% percent from the 9.2 million people who had signed up by the end of the campaign last year, which was down from the 9.6 million who had done so the year before. New customers made up 2.4 million of that total—down from the almost 3 million new enrollees who signed up for 2017 plans.
Lower enrollment overall remains likely because the vast majority of states use the federal system. That isn’t a good thing, the Huffington Post said, noting, “It means fewer Americans who don’t get health coverage from their employers or a government program like Medicaid or Medicare will be covered next year.”
In support of his intentions to bring down Obamacare, the administration made the enrollment period only half as long this year as it had been; slashed the advertising budget by 90% and cut funding for enrollment counselors by 40% overall.
As the Huffington Post reported, Trump repeatedly made public statements suggesting he wouldn’t fully enforce the individual mandate—making insurance companies nervous that fewer healthy people would enroll this year. Many insurers increased premiums more than originally planned because of that.
And in what President Trump viewed as a “win,” the administration managed to undo the individual mandate after 2019 as part of his unpopular tax bill, passed by both houses of Congress this past week and signed by the president.
Finally, Trump also plans to relax regulations of short-term insurance policies. They are now available for a maximum of three months, but the POTUS is bent on increasing them to a full year. Because these plans screen customers for pre-existing conditions ― which insurers selling exchange policies are forbidden to do ― they could lure healthy people away from the Obamacare market, further increasing costs for the sick people who would remain and weakening the exchanges.
What happens during 2019 enrollment period will be anybody’s guess. However, Democrats are aiming for the midterm elections to shore up the plan.
Research contact: @JeffYoung