Obamacare enrollment in Pa., N.J., spikes after Trump's election

Despite promises from the president-elect and Congress that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, and higher prices for coverage, enrollment in the Obamacare marketplaces increased after the November election both nationally and locally.

 A new federal report released Tuesday stated that 11.5 million people nationwide signed up for coverage through the health-insurance exchanges between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, up from about 11.2 million during a similar period in 2015. The exchanges make it possible for people who are not covered by an employer to buy a health plan that for most is federally subsidized.

In Pennsylvania, more than 413,000 people have selected a plan through Healthcare.gov since Nov. 1. In New Jersey, 273,210 have signed on. Enrollment remains open through Jan. 31 for coverage in 2017.

 Republicans, including President-elect Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, repeatedly have claimed that the ACA is in a “death spiral.”

 “As a simple factual matter, those claims are false,” said Aviva Aron-Dine, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “These data show that the market is not only stable but on track for growth.”

 At about the same time Aron-Dine and other federal officials were holding a news conference trumpeting the achievement, the president-elect was pressing for an immediate repeal and replacement of the ACA.  “Obamacare has been a catastrophic event,” Trump said Tuesday, adding that Congress could vote as early as next week to dismantle President Obama’s signature health law.

The political calculus is not straightforward. An analysis released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than half of Obamacare enrollees live in Republican-controlled congressional districts. 

About 20 million Americans receive health coverage under the ACA, which includes Marketplace plans, Medicaid expansion, and young adults who have been able to stay on their parents’  insurance plans longer than they could in the past. Most people can find a plan for less than $75 a month, depending on their income, HHS officials said.

Since the election, tens of thousands of people have called an Obamacare hotline worried that their health coverage might soon disappear, Aron-Dine said.

 “They’re scared now,” she said, likening the fate of the ACA to a car teetering on the edge of a cliff. 

Asked about premium increases, Aron-Dine said the rate hikes were necessary to bring premiums in line with costs.

 “They seem to be a onetime adjustment,” she said, citing a brief prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers.

 Trump has nominated Tom Price, a Republican congressman and an orthopedic surgeon, to be secretary of health and human services. A vocal opponent of the ACA, Price has introduced several detailed bills since 2009 proposing replacement plans.