Obamacare Enrollment Starts Stronger Than 2016 in First Four Days

Updated on
  • 600,000 enrolled Nov. 1-4; Last year, 415,000 in first 5 days
  • CMS early numbers are for 39 states using HealthCare.gov
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Americans signed up for Obamacare plans at a brisk pace early in this year’s open-enrollment period, despite repeated White House efforts to undermine the health law.

More than 600,000 people selected Obamacare plans for 2018 from Nov. 1 to Nov. 4 in the 39 states that use the HealthCare.gov eligibility and enrollment platform, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday. Last year, about 415,500 enrolled from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5.

The early figures follow other evidence that voters are more supportive of Obamacare than the president and Republicans in Congress who have attempted to kill the law. In Maine, voters approved the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor, a vote that could encourage other states to follow. Among a string of victories for Democrats in off-year elections, Virginia voters who elected a Democratic governor cited health care as a top issue in their decision.

“All this discussion about repeal made people aware that, ‘Wow, I should be grateful for what I have access to,”’ said Len Nichols, director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “There’s just way more consciousness to the value of health insurance than before they tried to repeal it.”

State health officials in New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and California said early enrollment numbers are higher than last year. There are also reports that the websites functioned well, in spite of fears about glitches.

Early Numbers Are Up

In New York, more people enrolled and traffic to the state’s insurance marketplace website is up by 30 percent, said Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the state’s health department. Calls to the market’s call center were down 7 percent. It’s too early to release detailed enrollment numbers, which will be available late November, Hammond said by email.

Maryland saw enrollments double to 10,000 in the first six days, said Andrew Ratner, chief marketing officer for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. That counts new enrollees and returning customers who actively logged in to change plans. Traffic to the website and mobile app are also up significantly, Ratner said.

President Donald Trump has called the Affordable Care Act a “disaster,” and his administration has taken measures to weaken the promotion of the marketplaces, including slashing advertising dollars and shortening the enrollment period. Trump also halted payments to insurers that reimburse them for reducing out-of-pocket costs for poor people. Health insurers have cited the moves for the sharp increases in premiums for 2018.

‘Better Prices’

The rate hikes many insurers made have actually created better deals for consumers eligible for subsidies, according to Ratner, because the amount of the subsidies is tied to premiums in the marketplace.

“For people who are within the window of getting subsidies, some of them are seeing better prices than they had a year ago -- and much better prices,” he said.

In California, about 5,900 people selected plans on Nov. 1, up about 25 percent compared to last year, said James Scullary, a spokesman for Covered California, the state’s insurance marketplace.

Medica, a health insurer that offers plans in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, said sign-ups so far are in line with its expectations.

“We’re about where we expected to be at this time of the year,” said Greg Bury, a company spokesman. Bury said he couldn’t compare sign-ups to previous years because competitors have dropped out in some markets.

The computer systems to process applications have been working properly, he said. "We haven’t had any technical glitches. It’s gone pretty smoothly."

The CMS numbers released Thursday show that new customers totaled 137,322 while 464,140 renewed coverage in the Nov. 1-4 period. The agency measures enrollment snapshots Sunday through Saturday so the first official week is typically a short one.

Advocates of the law have attempted to bolster enrollment in lieu of government help, with a sign-up period expected to be shorter this year.

Open enrollment for 2018 will end Dec. 15 this year. The 2017 enrollment period ended on Jan. 31. In past years, many people have been signing up close to the deadline.

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