People Are Signing Up For Obamacare Like Crazy

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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Americans are signing up for Obamacare in record-breaking numbers despite Republicans repeated assertions that the system is failing and numerous attempts to repeal and replace the program.

Roughly 2.3 million Americans signed up for insurance coverage on the Obamacare state exchanges during the first weeks of the 2018 open enrollment period. That figure is larger than the number of individuals who signed up for Obamacare during the same period of former President Barack Obama’s tenure.

Standard & Poor predicted in late October that enrollment could drop as much as 1.6 million from the 2017 open enrollment period, but initial sign up figures tell a different story.

President Donald Trump’s administration cut the open enrollment period in half, leaving consumers fewer weeks to obtain coverage. The 2018 open enrollment period runs from Nov. 1-Dec.15 2017. After the December 15 date, individuals can enroll in an Obamacare plan only if they qualify for the Special Enrollment Period.

Since the time frame to sign up for coverage is shorter, the surge in enrollment is likely due to panic on the part of enrollees that are worried they will lose out if they don’t sign up quickly. Also, even if the individuals keep signing up at the current rate, the numbers could still fall short of previous enrollment periods.

The Trump administration has done a few things that have likely caused consumers to sign up at quicker rates, like cutting Obamacare subsidies and greatly reducing advertising and navigator budgets.

The administration announced in October that it will no longer fund a crucial feature of Obamacare that helps low-income Americans purchase health insurance on the Affordable Care Act state exchanges, known as cost-sharing reductions.

“The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system,” the White House said in a statement. “Congress needs to repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare law and provide real relief to the American people.”

Abruptly stopping CSR payments will likely lead to skyrocketing premiums for Obamacare enrollees. Roughly half of the consumers who purchase health insurance through Obamacare qualify for cost-sharing reductions, so many could be quickly signing up in reaction to the likelihood the payments will stop.

The administration has argued that many of the Obamacare programs are merely a superfluous use of time and resources, including the navigator program. As such, the administration announced in September that it would cut some of the navigator program’s funding by as much as 90 percent.

Obamacare navigators are individuals that help consumers and businesses seek and obtain health insurance plans that meet their specific needs. They also provide outreach and educational assistance surrounding the health care marketplace.

Over 70 percent of regional programs and 55 percent of statewide navigators anticipate rolling back programs in rural areas because of the administration’s funding cuts, Kaiser Family Foundation reports. The overwhelming majority, or 89 percent, of navigators expect having to fire staff because of the cuts.

Cuts to navigators are important in that the Obamacare marketplace can be difficult to navigate, even for an experienced consumer.

The higher than expected enrollment figures could put the administration in a rough position, given that it continues to push Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare.

On the other hand, if the enrollment numbers are significantly less than other periods on Dec. 15, it could give the administration’s campaign to overhaul the system a boost.

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