Health

Despite Trump, Obamacare Signups Reach Record Levels

The Trump administration may have significantly reduced outreach efforts and funding — and the headlines have certainly caused confusion for consumers — but the early numbers for open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act are in, and they’re record-breaking.

Over 600,000 consumers signed up for plans on the law’s exchanges during the first week of enrollment, according to an ABC News report citing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

On average, roughly 150,000 people signed up each day during the first week of enrollment, compared to 84,000 on average last year. More than 9 million people in total signed up for health coverage on the federal Affordable Care Act exchanges last year, ABC reported.

“It’s by far the biggest start to open enrollment,” said Lori Lodes, co-founder of Get America Covered, an outreach program aimed at getting the word out that people can still enroll, despite cuts and confusion over the law’s future. “There’s still a big question as to what’s happening now, what will happen next week, and can we continue to raise awareness so people know to take action before Dec. 15.”

Health care advocates expressed concerns about enrollment numbers prior to the start date on Nov. 1. Health and Human Services slashed advertising and outreach dollars by 90 percent, shortened the enrollment period and introduced website outages from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. each Sunday during enrollment.

There have also been debates over repealing and replacing Obamacare and stabilizing the individual markets. And at the White House, President Donald Trump stopped funding cost-sharing subsidies and declared Obamacare “dead.”

In the absence of sabotage, the Center for American Progress (CAP) projected a total of 12.2 million people would selected plans for 2018, consisting of about 8.1 million re-enrollees and 4.1 million new enrollees.

CAP officials said they believe this is a conservative estimate given that within days of Trump taking office, the new administration cut off HealthCare.gov advertising and signaled its intent to repeal the ACA.

Midway through last year’s open enrollment period, enrollment was surpassing the previous year’s levels.

Locally, the DC Health Link ramped up efforts this month to enroll residents, and in Maryland, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker urged residents who are uninsured or underinsured to take advantage of the enrollment period.

“This is an extraordinary time,” Baker said in a news release. “Over the last several months, we have seen numerous attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The recent Executive Order threatens the stability of the marketplace and may cause residents with affordable health coverage to lose their tax credits and eligibility for cost sharing reductions.”

While the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land, with each attempt to attack the law, Baker said everyone has come to see how vital it is to have access to health care now.

“Without coverage, there is no clear pathway to prevention, wellness and improving health outcomes,” he said. “I urge all Prince Georgians who are not covered, please get coverage now. This is the time.”

Reportedly, more than 14,000 Maryland residents picked plans in the first eight days of open enrollment, more than twice as many as last year.

The Maryland Health Connection website, which usually closes at 11 p.m., had to stay open an hour later on the first day of open enrollment because 300 people were still online.

“The administration has caused a lot of anxiety for people over the last year when it comes to health care but there’s also been a more in-depth conversation about what Obamacare really is about,” Lodes told USA Today.

Lodes said when most people logged onto HealthCare.gov, they found plans that are more affordable than they expected.

For those who do receive subsidies, are healthy and/or can set aside money, especially in a health savings account, this year offers some great deals, she said.

“If the administration were doing everything they could to help people enroll, instead of undermining the law every chance they get, imagine how many more people would be signing up right now,” Lodes said.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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