Obamacare sign-ups for 2019 off to a slow start
Fewer people are rushing to sign up for Obamacare for 2019.
Nearly 1.2 million Americans selected plans in the first 10 days of open enrollment this year, compared with nearly 1.5 million in the first 11 days last year, according to federal data released Wednesday. The average number of sign-ups per day is about 12.5% lower than last year.
Last year, with the Affordable Care Act fresh off the threat of being repealed, people rushed to sign up in the early days of open enrollment. Ultimately, nearly 11.8 million people selected coverage on the federal and state-based exchanges during a shortened enrollment period. That was down only 3.8%, much less than some advocates of the health care law had feared.
While it’s still too early to draw conclusions about this year’s enrollment, which runs through December 15 in most states, health policy experts fear the numbers could drop further.
“It’s likely real,” said Eliot Fishman, senior director of health policy at the left-leaning Families USA and a former Obama administration official. “It’s certainly not a surprise.”
The main reasons why: the repeal of the individual mandate penalty and the availability of alternative policies that cost less but offer skimpier benefits.
Starting in 2019, people will no longer face a penalty for not having health insurance. Congress effectively eliminated the individual mandate by reducing the penalty to $0 as part of the 2017 tax cut bill.
Also, the Trump administration made it easier for people to sign up for coverage that doesn’t have to adhere to all of Obamacare’s rules, such as short-term health plans. These policies, which last just under a year, typically have lower premiums, but they can also exclude those with pre-existing conditions or charge them more. And they generally don’t offer as comprehensive benefits as those found on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
The Trump administration has also pulled way back on advertising open enrollment, despite studies that show that it helps drive people to sign up. It will spend $10 million on advertising this period, the same as last year but a massive drop from the $100 million the Obama administration spent in 2016. States that ran their own exchanges and kept up their marketing campaigns saw better enrollment results.