After a slash in advertising funding and dire predictions from experts, signups for Obamacare have surged in the first weeks of open enrollment.
The uptick in signups is exactly what supporters of the healthcare law were hoping for but experts urge people to keep perspective because such an early surge does not always turn into a trend. It is important to wait for the final enrollment numbers.
This is the first open enrollment of the Trump administration and it has been quite robust, even considering the uncertainty that the many months of repeal attempts in Congress, insurer exits and rising premiums, have caused.
In just under three weeks, almost 2.3 million people have signed up for Obamacare exchanges according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They say this year has exceeded the signups for the same period during Barack Obama’s presidency.
The health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Larry Levitt, said that enrollment has been up each day but also cautioned that the early numbers can be misleading when it comes to predicting final numbers.
“But there are a lot fewer days” in the open enrollment period now, he stated. “It’s really hard to generalize from these early enrollment numbers.”
Enrollment this year faces a number of challenges.
Standard & Poor’s has predicted that enrollment numbers could drop by 1.6 million compared to last year’s 12.2 due, at least in part, to the uncertainty that President Trump has caused in the marketplace.
The Trump administration has also cut the open enrollment period in half and it will now end on December 15. With the shortened amount of time allowed, even if the number of signups per day stayed on pace, we would still see far fewer signups compared to past years.
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Levitt says that much of the success of open enrollment largely depends on how big the surge of signups is as the deadline approaches.
He went on to say that over the years there has generally been two surges, one around December 15 when those buying would be covered for January 1 and one around January 31 which is at the end of enrollment.
The surge at the deadline this year would have to be “quite large” to be able to keep the numbers as high as in previous years.
The rhetoric coming from the Trump administration is only serving to confuse those in the market further. The president has claimed that Obamacare is “imploding” and when Republicans failed in their attempt to repeal the law, Trump started slashing at the law in any way that he could.
For example, he signed an executive order that told agencies to weaken the Obamacare rules. He has cut the advertising and outreach money by 90%. Trump also cut funds for outside groups who help with outreach by 41%.
Then, just last month, the administration cut off key subsidy payments to insurance companies that helped to bring down the cost of insurance for low-income individuals and families.
“There could be a fear factor, people going out and enrolling before more changes happen,” said Katherine Hempstead, who directs coverage programs at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“The negative publicity has increased awareness a bit.”