- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2017

More than 600,000 people selected an Obamacare plan during the first four days of enrollment, the Trump administration said Thursday in a report indicating the law is holding its own even as the White House plots its demise.

New customers were a fifth of sign-ups, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said, as enrollment under President Trump appeared to outpace last year’s sign-ups under President Obama.

Obamacare supporters hailed it as a “great start,” though analysts preached caution, saying first-week interest might reflect confusion around the law, rather than new appetites for coverage.

“It’s much too early to draw conclusions, but it seems pretty clear that the ACA still has life in it,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The fast pace comes despite Mr. Trump cutting the enrollment period in half and slashing consumer outreach for the program.

Many analysts still expect overall sign-ups to be less than last year, when roughly 1 million people signed up in the first 12 days of enrollment last year, or about 84,000 per day.

Thursday’s enrollment “snapshot” translated to 150,000 sign-ups per day, though it only covered the first four days of enrollment on HealthCare.gov, the federal website serving 39 states.

Weekly updates will show whether there is a drop-off in the second week, or if fresh blood can sustain the early pace through the Dec. 15 deadline to sign up.

“The key measure is the number of new consumers, which will largely determine whether enrollment overall rises or falls,” Mr. Levitt said.

A Kaiser study released Thursday said more than half of the 10.7 million Americans who are uninsured and eligible for an Obamacare plan could pay less in premiums than what they would owe under the “individual mandate” tax for shirking coverage. That tax stands at $695 or 2.5 percent of income.

Kaiser said 8.3 million of the 10.7 million uninsured in its analysis would qualify for taxpayer-funded subsidies built into the health care law. Roughly 40 percent of the 10.7 million could find a low-tier bronze plan for no cost at all, due to the subsidies.

Yet unsubsidized customers would struggle to find coverage that’s cheaper than the tax.

Many states were able to structure rate hikes tied to Mr. Trump’s decision to cancel “cost-sharing” payments to insurers in a way that boosted premium subsidies, knocking down prices while Uncle Sam foots the bill.

“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. So when most people logged onto HealthCare.gov they found plans that are more affordable than they expected,” said Lori Lodes, who promoted Obamacare under the previous administration. “Financial help is making plans cheaper than ever for HealthCare.gov consumers.”

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