The numbers aren’t in yet for Obamacare’s latest sign-up period, but the final tally for the 2016 enrollment period may fall far short of estimates, a former top health official for the Obama administration warns.
Joshua Peck, formerly the Chief Marketing Officer for HealthCare.gov, published an op-ed in Medium Thursday arguing that Obamacare sign-ups could be lower than Obama administration officials originally predicted by almost 500,000 this year, results some attribute to President Trump.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced last week, days before the enrollment period’s conclusion, that it would pull $5 million worth of Obamacare ads in order to lower costs, noting that the agency had already spent $60 million on promoting the health law in the current enrollment cycle.
The agency also cut off e-mails to those who had already registered at HealthCare.gov, but chose not sign up for a plan, according to Politico.
The move could drastically lower the number of Americans who choose to purchase insurance on the exchange, according to Peck.
“Last year, we saw about 700,000 people enroll during the week of enrollment — the bulk of whom signed up in the two to three days before the deadline,” Peck wrote. “This year, a combination of factors, including more targeted and efficient outreach and a letter from the IRS to people who paid the penalty, led us to believe we’d see an even bigger surge in the days before the final deadline.” Peck noted that by Jan. 14, enrollment was higher than it had been at the same point during last year’s sign-up period.
Cutting advertising wasn’t the only problem, according to the former administrator — Trump’s January executive order advising agencies to “ease the burden of Obamacare” could have suggested that the law’s infamous tax on those who do not buy health insurance might not be around much longer.
“His confusing Executive Order, which lacked any specificity, sent a signal that his administration might not enforce the penalty,” Peck argued. “While most people don’t like the penalty, research from multiple organizations shows that the penalty plays a critical role in motivating people, especially young and health people, to get covered keeping coverage affordable for everyone.”
“Whatever the number, there should be no doubt that Trump’s efforts to sabotage enrollment in the final days before the deadline were at least somewhat successful.”
The jury’s still out on final enrollment numbers for this year, but a dip in sign-ups isn’t clear from the few who have released statistics.
Washington’s state-run marketplace announced Thursday that over 225,000 selected plans this year, 13 percent more than during last year’s enrollment period and the largest total so far for the state.
The New York health insurance marketplace boasted its busiest single day Tuesday, the last day of the sign-up period, but experienced a decline in sign-ups for private plans, with 242,880 people selecting a qualified health plan on the website compared to last year’s 271,964.
In Maryland, enrollment in private plans is down three percent from last year, but Washington, D.C., trended upward three percent over its 2016 numbers.
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