- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2017

Obamacare’s sign-up deadline came and went this weekend with nary a peep from President Trump, who instead championed a GOP tax bill that repeals a key piece of the 2010 law, leaving it to Democrats and former Obama officials to cheer the embattled program across the finish line.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said HealthCare.gov operated smoothly in the final hours of enrollment, though call centers experienced lengthy wait times. The agency said anyone who left their contact information would get a callback and the chance to finish up.

HealthCare.gov sign-ups had been robust and surged in recent days. Yet analysts doubt the last-minute rush and “auto-enrollments” from existing customers who didn’t select coverage on their own will be enough to match last year’s tally of 9.2 million, since the sign-up season is was half as long this time.

Failure to expand the program’s customer base would be bad news for insurers, who have been hit with a smaller and sicker customer base than expected on the exchanges, prompting them to increase premiums or leave the program entirely. A poor showing will also fuel GOP lawmakers who say the program still needs to be repealed.

The 2018 enrollment period was the first one launched and fully overseen by Mr. Trump.

His administration gave customers in much of the country from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 to sign up on HealthCare.gov — last year they had until Jan. 31 — though 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, operate their own websites and many of them are giving residents more time.

“Today is NOT the deadline to sign up for health insurance in Minnesota,” MNsure, a state-run exchange, said in an email alert Friday to drive home the point.

Residents using HealthCare.gov had to log on by midnight Saturday if they wanted to buy 2018 coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which extended taxpayer-funded subsides to low- and moderate-income consumers.

As the deadline neared, the president had other things on his mind.

He cheered the GOP’s tax plan and spoke about immigration and crime during a visit with FBI Academy graduates on Friday, yet didn’t bring up Obamacare.

Though efforts to repeal and replace the law failed this year, Mr. Trump likes to say the program is already “dead.” He still wants Congress to replace the 2010 law next spring, but he’s dismantling it where he can in the meantime, urging GOP lawmakers to pass a tax-cut bill that repeals Obamacare’s “individual mandate” to hold insurance or pay a penalty to the IRS.

Mr. Trump didn’t use his favorite broadcast tool — Twitter — to encourage people to check out their coverage options during the enrollment period, leaving a void that his predecessor tried to fill.

Former President Barack Obama recorded a web video to promote his signature achievement and thanked in-person helpers by phone for their efforts — the kind of things he did while he was still president.

His former Medicare chief — Andy Slavitt — has been an ardent defender of the law on TV, social media and around Capitol Hill, while Lori Lodes, who oversaw Obamacare promotion under Mr. Obama, set up a nonprofit to tout enrollment.

Critics say Mr. Trump probably dampened enrollment by cutting outreach, including TV ads, though the administration did send a stream of email reminders to anyone with a HealthCare.gov account.

Still, Obamacare supporters saw a silver lining in some of Mr. Trump’s moves. Customers who qualified for taxpayer subsidies often found better bargains this year, a ripple effect from the White House’s decision to cancel “cost-sharing” payments to insurers.

Lawmakers are deciding whether to pass a stabilization package that would restore those payments and expand cheaper insurance options for healthier people of all ages.

Conservatives don’t want to prop up Obamacare, however, and Democrats aren’t as keen on the bill as they once were, noting it would reel in supersized subsidies that customers are enjoying without fixing any market disruption sown by repealing the individual mandate.

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