ObamaCare shows resilience despite Trump attacks
ObamaCare is showing signs of stability as its seventh open enrollment period draws to a close despite actions taken by the Trump administration to undermine the health care law.
While signups for ObamaCare plans are down slightly from last year, experts say enrollment appears to be relatively stable, partly due to lower premiums and more insurer participation.
“People need and want health insurance, and by and large, the marketplaces are working,” said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform for the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).
For the 38 states that use healthcare.gov, Sunday is the last day to sign up for ObamaCare plans.
As of Dec. 7, more than 3.9 million people had signed up for plans, a 6 percent drop compared to a similar time period last year.
But the last few days of open enrollment typically bring a surge of signups, meaning that gap could shrink.
Still, experts don’t expect overall enrollment to top last year’s, when 8.4 million people signed up.
Enrollment on healthcare.gov has been steadily dropping since 2016.
“It does look like we’re on track to fall just shy of last year’s enrollment figures,” said Josh Peck, who oversaw ObamaCare enrollment efforts for the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017.
But, he noted, if that were to happen, it would buck a multi-year trend where enrollment decreased by hundreds of thousands of people. ObamaCare enrollment has dropped by 1.2 million since President Trump took office.
Democrats and others blame Trump, pointing to his administration’s decisions to cut funding for marketing and outreach efforts, expand the sale of short-term plans that don’t meet ObamaCare requirements, end payments to insurers that go toward reducing costs for low-income customers.
The president also signed the 2017 tax law, which ended the penalty for not having insurance, and his administration is backing a lawsuit filed by Republican attorneys general that seeks to overturn the health care law.
That case has unnerved Republicans, many of whom worry about the fallout if the law is struck down ahead of the 2020 election.
Given that, experts expected this year’s enrollment to continue to drop. The question was by how much.
“There’s definitely been some erosion, but perhaps not the cratering that some predicted back when the Trump administration announced some of their policy changes affect the ACA,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor and founder of Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.
The administration’s actions appear to be balanced out by the fact that premiums for healthcare.gov plans have decreased, on average, from last year.
According to a KFF analysis, 4.7 million people who currently don’t have insurance could get a bronze plan while paying nothing for premiums, after factoring in tax credits.
More insurers are participating this year than last year: 18 states will see 26 new insurers entering their markets, according to KFF.
And while total enrollment is down slightly from last year, new customers are still selecting plans on healthcare.gov.
“It suggests that consumers still view coverage through the marketplace as an important source of coverage,” Tolbert said.
Still, Trump will argue ObamaCare is failing as he tries to rally his base ahead of 2020, while also claiming he has improved it.
“It’s horrible, by the way, but we’ve made it very acceptable,” Trump said last month while appearing on the Dan Bongino show.
“Sometimes you’ll hear people say it’s not bad. That’s because of getting rid of the individual mandate… We’ve really done a good job of management of it. It’s a disaster.”
he also promised to unveil a cheaper and better plan if he is reelected.
Trump and his administration have focused their ObamaCare agenda on people who don’t qualify for subsidies because they make too much money.
Premiums are down this year, on average, but that’s cold comfort for people who don’t get any help at all from the government to pay for their plans.
“The base premiums are still pretty darn high going into 2020,” Corlette said.
“While premiums dropped somewhat, they’re dropping from a really high base for your average person.”
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