Obamacare Enrollment Is Up But Returning Customers Are Still Shying Away

Font Size:

Just before the deadline to have Obamacare coverage for January, only 1.3 million of last year’s customers had renewed their insurance, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

On alone, which serves 37 states this year, 2,466,562 people have selected plans so far this enrollment period. That data ends Dec. 12, not including what HHS calls an “extremely busy” weekend before Monday’s deadline to purchase coverage effective Jan. 1.

That’s almost double the number of sign-ups compared to the week before, according to limited HHS data. A month into the open enrollment period, the administration hasn’t released a full enrollment report, as it did last year. It’s been sticking to weekly “enrollment snapshots” that include total sign-ups, website traffic and call center wait times, but no state-by-state information or data on the age and gender of customers or the types of plans they’ve chosen.

The closer it gets to a deadline, the more customers that come flocking to Obamacare exchanges. But just three days before Jan. 1 ended, just around 28 percent of last year’s customers had renewed their policies, according to HHS data, and it would be difficult for the administration to make up that many customers even in a high-traffic weekend.

The Obama administration’s enrollment totals are likely to be saved by its autorenewal policy, which allows HHS to sign customers up for another year of the same policy if they don’t renew or cancel it themselves. That policy has been plagued with problems — but at this rate, it may help to keep in business in the long run. (RELATED: Doesn’t Have Many Returning Customers Yet) 

The administration has been trying to prompt customers to return to and pick a new health care plan all over again, because premiums for existing plans are rising at a faster rate than offerings from newcomers without a customer base. Customers surprised by double-digit rate hikes could end up not being able to afford their policies and even dropping out.

Panic over inactive customers and this year’s rate hikes even led the administration to propose giving HHS the power to change customers’ plans to the lowest-cost option all on its own — which would immediately raise problems with covered services, doctor and hospital networks and drug coverage. (RELATED: Obama Admin Wants To Choose Your Plan For You)

But while it’ll likely create a lot of unwanted surprises for Obamacare customers, the autoenrollment policy is also keeping several million extra sign-ups in the administration’s enrollment tally.

Follow Sarah on Twitter