Obamacare enrollment stays strong in Pa., N.J. and around U.S.

Health Overhaul Navigating Confusion
Florida Blue agent Ismaris Crespo, right, explains Affordable Care Act enrollment options to Catherine Reviati, left, earlier this month in Hialeah, Fl.

Health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, remained higher than many expected for the third straight week, Trump administration data released Wednesday showed. The pace of enrollment remained about 50 percent higher compared with a similar period last year.

But the president’s move to cut the enrollment period in half, tinker with funding and slash the advertising budget, on top of continuing uncertainty in Congress, mean it’s unclear whether that pace will continue. With 40 percent of the enrollment season tallied, only about a quarter of last year’s final numbers have been achieved, both locally and nationally.

The U.S. Department of Human Services also released state-level data for the first time. From Nov. 1 to 18:

  • 64,369 New Jersey residents selected insurance plans.
  • 101,286 Pennsylvanians did the same.
  • 2,277,079 residents of the 39 states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania that use the government portal, Healthcare.gov, picked plans. About a quarter were new customers; the rest re-enrolled.

The 45-day open enrollment period ends Dec. 15; the rest of the year, enrollment is available only to those with special circumstances such as losing a job or getting married.

Another concern for coverage advocates: Fence-sitters — typically younger, healthier people who see less need for coverage but are needed to balance the cost of insuring the sicker and older people who are eager for insurance — often sign up at the last minute, encouraged by advertising that will be vastly reduced this year.

Other moves in Washington are increasing confusion: The Trump administration announced last month that it would end “cost sharing” payments to insurance companies that are required by law to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income purchasers. To make up the difference, insurers raised premiums. Since most people who buy Obamacare insurance plans receive income-based subsidies that rise along with premiums, however, many will not pay more. The government will. Consumers who don’t get subsidies, however, will get stuck with higher premiums.

Congress may — or may not — restore the cost-sharing payments. Republicans also are considering, as part of sweeping tax reform that so far has no Democratic support, repealing the mandate that everyone have health insurance, or pay a tax penalty. Ending the mandate would likely mean that fewer young people would buy insurance, potentially harming the insurance market, though some economists downplay that possibility.

Still others point out that the loud partisan debate is likely encouraging more people to consider Obamacare for the first time and even sign up.