- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2019

California signed up roughly the same amount of Obamacare customers for 2019 as it did last year, officials said Wednesday, though they blamed a sharp drop in new enrollees on the GOP’s decision to gut the “individual mandate” to hold insurance.

Enrollment in the state-run exchange was relatively flat, with 1.5 million selecting a plan. That’s a drop of only 8,000 people compared to last year.

While more customers decided to keep and renew coverage this round, there was a nearly 24 percent decrease in new signups.

“With the reduction being relatively evenly spread across demographics, the primary driver of the loss of new enrollees appears to be removal of the individual mandate penalty,” Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee.

The exchange said its drop in new enrollees exceeded the average 16-percent drop in new customers among the 39 states served by the federally run exchange, or “HealthCare.gov.”

California officials said those states successive drops in signups over the past few years, “putting their decrease on top of an already diminished pool of healthy consumers opting out of coverage.”

“California has maintained strong new enrollment in each of the prior four years, leaving it more susceptible to drops in new enrollment due to the loss of the penalty and other factors,” it said.

Mr. Lee said the statistic affirms Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to impose a state-level mandate to hold insurance, after Republicans and President Trump scrapped the federal penalty as part of their sweeping tax overhaul.

The administration pointed to ample signs the mandate had been ineffective in drawing young and healthy people into the marketplace, despite Democrats’ hopes when they included the mandate in the 2010 law.

Republicans also said the tax tended to punish people making less than $50,000 per year, so it was more of a burden than a vital economic lever.

Yet Democrats cried “sabotage” over the move, while insurers decried the loss of the main tool to prod customers into the market.

New Jersey Democrats joined Gov. Phil Murphy in reimposing the mandate through a state tax penalty last year, though it didn’t appear to work as intended in its first round.

New Jersey signups on HealthCare.gov fell by 7 percent — about 20,000 customers — in 2019 compared to 2018.

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