- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The federal government’s Obamacare enrollment period ends next week with signups poised to fall far short of last year’s total, according to new government numbers Wednesday.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said heading into the final week of enrollment, nearly 4.7 million people had selected coverage on the federal portal that serves dozen of states.

That’s only about half the total last year, when President Obama was in charge and the sign-up period was twice as long.

Even with auto-enrollments — existing customers who get assigned a plan if they don’t pick one themselves — it’s likely signups on HealthCare.gov will end up behind last year’s enrollment number of 9.2 million. Last year, the auto-enrollment was 1.6 million.

“It looks like enrollment will fall short of last year,” said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere, a health policy consultancy, in an email. “If we assume a comparable number of auto-assignments, then we are at roughly 6.3M now. It is extremely unlikely that 2.9M more will sign up in the final week.”

Failure to meet last year’s tally of 9.2 million could embolden Republican critics who say Obamacare isn’t popular and needs to be repealed and replaced with market-driven reforms next year.

Obamacare’s insurance exchanges, which launched in 2014, have consistently struggled to attract enough young and healthy customers to keep premiums from rising.

But interest in HealthCare.gov has been unusually strong this year, buoyed in part by taxpayer subsidies that are especially generous — a ripple effect from Mr. Trump’s decision to cancel “cost-sharing” payments to insurers.

CMS said more than 1 million people signed up on HealthCare.gov between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9, signaling a ramp-up in the homestretch. Previous weekly results ranged from 500,000 to 800,000 signups.

“No matter where things up after this week, today’s enrollment numbers prove that enrollment is defying expectations and the Trump administration’s attempts to make sure fewer people signed up this year,” said Lori Lodes, who managed Obamacare outreach under President Obama.

Democrats say that Mr. Trump short-circuited what could have been a positive year for Obamacare by imposing a short sign-up period. They’ve asked him to accept enrollments through Jan 31.

“When the Trump administration decided to shorten the enrollment period this year, they knew it would lead to millions of Americans missing out on the opportunity to sign up for coverage,” said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “To date, enrollment numbers have been promising, but the six-week period will hamper those numbers.”

A dozen state-run exchanges will report their own enrollment figures in the coming weeks. Several of them decided to give their customers extra time — in some cases until Jan. 31.

Unusually high enrollment in those areas could help the program approach the 12.2-million total that Obamacare notched in 2017.

A percentage of enrollees tend to drop out during the year due to nonpayment of premiums, however.

Through June, an average of 10.1 million individuals had effectuated their 2017 coverage by staying up to date on their bills, CMS reported Wednesday.

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