Obamacare enrollment sluggish in final weeks

Last-minute Obamacare enrollments dropped significantly this year compared to last year, as the debate over Republican vows to repeal and replace the law heats up.

A total of more than 9.2 million people selected health plans on the federal healthcare.gov website during its fourth annual enrollment season, the administration announced Friday. But just around 400,000 people signed up in the last two weeks, compared to nearly 700,000 signups in the final week of enrollment last year.

Republicans quickly jumped on the announcement to broadcast their dire analysis of the law. Kevin Brady, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee which is working on an Obamacare repeal bill, said the numbers only partially reflect what he sees as the law’s failings.

“The enrollment numbers released today only tell a fraction of Obamacare’s disappointing story — for instance, the fact that these numbers are the result of a law that forces Americans to sign up for insurance they don’t want or need,” Brady said in a statement. “These numbers also don’t show that costs are soaring, access to the care people want is shrinking, choices of insurers are dwindling, and taxes are rising.”

Supporters of Obamacare have chastized a decision by President Trump‘s administration to scale back Obamacare outreach and advertising once he took office, with just a week and a half remaining in the signup season. They charged that it was an effort to sabotage the program by depriving it of customers, particularly the young and healthy ones who are critical to the program and tend to sign up at the last minute.

“There is no doubt that enrollment would have been even higher if not for the uncertainty caused by political attacks on the law, and the Trump administration’s decision not to provide consumers with all of the resources and support available to help them enroll,” said Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America.

It’s still unclear whether the Obama administration’s goal of nearly 13.8 million plan selections will be met, as the total doesn’t include enrollments from the 12 states running their own marketplaces.

The announcement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had a marked change of tone from the Obama administration, which had often sought to cast the healthcare law in the most positive light. CMS instead emphasized some of healthcare.gov’s shortcomings, noting that premiums rose overall and there were fewer plans available for purchase.

“Those selections were made from a market that experienced a 25 percent increase over the previous year in the average premium for the benchmark second-lowest cost silver plan as well as a 28 percent decline in the number of issuers participating over the past year,” the announcement said.

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Health and Human Services spokesman Matt Lloyd said the administration looks forward to replacing the healthcare law.

“Obamacare has failed the American people, with one broken promise after another,” Lloyd said. “We look forward to providing relief to those who are being harmed by the status quo and pursuing patient-centered solutions that will work for the American people.”

Of the 9.2 million signups, about 3 million were from new customers and about 6.2 million were returning customers.

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