Obamacare enrollment hits 4.7 million on HealthCare.gov as Friday’s final deadline looms

Isabel Diaz Tinoco (L) and Jose Luis Tinoco speak with Otto Hernandez, an insurance agent from Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, as they shop for insurance under the Affordable Care Act at a store setup in the Mall of Americas on November 1, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

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Isabel Diaz Tinoco (L) and Jose Luis Tinoco speak with Otto Hernandez, an insurance agent from Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, as they shop for insurance under the Affordable Care Act at a store setup in the Mall of Americas on November 1, 2017 in Miami, Florida.

 

About 4.7 million people so far have signed up for a health insurance plan sold on the federal Obamacare marketplace, whose final enrollment deadline is Friday, officials said Wednesday.

But it is not clear from the new tally whether Obamacare enrollment this season will end up surpassing the 9.2 million sign ups booked last season on the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov.

During the week that ended last Saturday, 1.07 million customers selected a private individual health insurance plan sold on HealthCare.gov, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

That number is expected to significantly increase this week, the final one of the season for enrolling in individual health plans that take effect Jan. 1 on HealthCare.gov, which serves residents of 39 states.

Most of the other states that run their own Obamacare exchanges — which sell coverage to people who do not have other sources of health coverage —have later deadlines. After the deadline, people can sign up for health insurance only in special circumstances.

Sign-ups, as a rule, tend to spike sharply as insurance deadlines approach.

However, many people this season are unaware of HealthCare.gov’s final deadline, which falls six weeks earlier than last season’s cut-off date.

Lori Lodes, a former top health official in the Obama administration, on Tuesday wrote in advance of Wednesday’s release of enrollment number that “if total enrollment is meaningfully lower than how many signed up during Week 6 of last year — 1,067,849 — enrollment in Week 7 may be lower than than we saw in Week 7 of last year.”

“But if it stays on pace or even out performs Week 6 of [the last enrollment season], there is at least a chance that enrollment will continue to track with or ahead of last year,” wrote Lodes, co-founder of the Obamacare advocacy group Get America Covered.

The tally released Wednesday was just slightly higher, by about 6,000 people, the number of customers who had signed up for a HealthCare.gov. If Lodes’ analysis is correct, there remains the possibility that the enrollment tally by the end of this week will beat last year’s total.

But Larry Levitt, an Obamacare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was skeptical that would happen. 

Of the 4,678,361 million customers who had selected a plan on HealthCare.gov through last Saturday since open enrollmentbegan Nov. 1, almost 1.4 million of them were new customers, and almost 3.3 million were returning customers.

This enrollment season is the first full one to occur under the administration of President Donald Trump, which is hostile to the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is formally known.

Obamacare supporters have strongly criticized the Trump administration for slashing advertising and outreach efforts designed to spur enrollment in health plans.

Those supporters blame such actions by the then-new administration at very end of the last open enrollment season for causing a shortfall of about 400,000 people compared to the sign-up tally for the prior year.

Advocates as a result have been skeptical that this year’s enrollment tally will be higher than last season’s.

 

They point to not only the reduction in outreach efforts, but also to customer confusion about the deadline, about whether they still can get financial aid to lower their cost of Obamacare coverage, and about whether the ACA even remains the law.

The Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress have repeatedly tried to repeal key parts of Obamacare this year, but so far have proven unable to do so.

And while Trump stopped the government from reimbursing insurers for discounts given many Obamacare customers for out-of-pocket health costs, those discounts remain in effect, as do federal subsidies which lower the monthly premiums for most people who buy coverage through an Obamacare exchange.

However, Congress is currently considering a tax bill which would, almong other things, repeal the ACA requirement mandating that most Americans have some form of insurance that is compliant with that health law’s minium requirements, or face a tax penalty.

The fine for not having heath coverage is the higher of 2.5 percent of household income or $695 per adult.

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