8.8 million sign up for ObamaCare, nearly matching last year

Democrats declared victory Thursday after the Trump administration announced that nearly 9 million people signed up for health insurance through the federal ObamaCare exchanges.

Last year, 9.2 million people signed up for coverage during an open enrollment period that was twice as long.

Approximately 8.8 million people enrolled during the six-week open enrollment period in the 39 states that use the federal healthcare.gov website, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said.

In the final week alone, more than 4.1 million people enrolled, more than 1 million of whom were new customers, the agency said.

“This is a remarkable result given the administration’s efforts to sabotage enrollment by gutting outreach, creating chaos and confusion, cutting off subsidies for low-income families and shortening the enrollment period by six weeks,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneNew Trump rule would weaken Obama methane pollution standards FCC watchdog clears chairman of 'favoritism' allegations over Sinclair deal GAO report blasts Trump's handling of ObamaCare MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

“Today’s enrollment numbers make clear that the American people want access to high quality, affordable health insurance coverage, and they want Congress and the Administration to stop playing games with our health care system,” he continued.

In a tweet, CMS administrator Seema Verma said her agency had done a great job to “make this the smoothest experience for consumers to date.”

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The strong numbers come despite worries from Democrats and activists that the Trump administration was sabotaging the health-care law, and belie repeated claims from the administration that the law is failing.

“Their goal was always to destroy [ObamaCare],” Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said of Republicans. “I think the public has spoken. The outstanding need for health care has manifested, and as much as they throw a monkey wrench, the health automobile keeps moving.”

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDem on Puerto Rico and Trump: ‘God only knows’ what he'd consider a failure Congress losing faith in Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence MORE (D-Va.) told The Hill the numbers “confirm the public reaction to the prospect of repeal, which was, ‘well, not so fast.’ ”

Connolly pointed to the Democratic victory in the Virginia governor’s race, in which health care emerged as the top issue.

“I believe there will be a day of reckoning on this and other issues,” he said.

It’s not clear if the enrollment numbers met or surpassed official expectations, as Trump officials refused to share what their enrollment targets were, a break in practice from the Obama administration.

Most experts expected enrollment numbers to drop compared to last year, but the strong finish came as a surprise.

Larry Levitt, the senior vice president of Kaiser Family Foundation, tweeted that results like these "didn't seem possible" with the obstacles facing the exchanges this year.

Aside from shortening the open enrollment period, the administration slashed its budget for outreach and advertising by 90 percent. The administration also cut funds for outside groups that help reach and enroll likely ObamaCare consumers by 41 percent.

The final enrollment numbers are expected to grow and could surpass the 12 million total people who signed up last year.

The numbers don’t include people who enrolled late at night, in the last minutes of open enrollment, nor do they include consumers who left their contact information at the ObamaCare call center due to high volume.

Many states that operate their own exchanges extended their open enrollment deadlines past the federal deadline of Dec. 15. Nearly 2.5 million people have signed up on state exchanges to date.

In addition, people who live in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, as well as some parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, qualify for a special open enrollment period because they were impacted by hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Maria and Nate. That period ends Dec. 31.

People losing coverage because their insurer withdrew from the marketplace may qualify for a special enrollment period, providing 60 more days to sign up for a health plan.

Still, many challenges lie ahead for the ObamaCare marketplace.

Congressional Republicans just passed a tax bill repealing the law’s individual mandate, which means insurers are going to be re-evaluating whether it’s profitable for them to offer plans next year. Some could decide to leave, while others may significantly raise their premiums.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE also signed an executive order instructing agencies to loosen ObamaCare rules, so insurers will be able to sell cheap, short-term plans that don’t provide the same protections currently required.

-Updated 6:07 p.m.