“This [enrollment] number is higher than anyone expected, and has to be considered a success.”
Affordable Care Act enrollment is down, but not by much, and a special enrollment period for people affected by hurricanes means last-minute signups could trickle in from states such as Georgia and Alabama, which now have a Dec. 31 deadline.
Most of the country's chance, including Tennessee's, to obtain Affordable Care Act health insurance ended on Dec. 15. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, commonly called CMS, released a report last week that summarized HealthCare.gov activity through the final stretch.
The report found that about 8.8 million people nationally selected plans or were automatically re-enrolled through the federal marketplace, down from 9.2 million people last year. Nearly 230,500 Tennesseans have signed up for coverage starting in 2018, which is about 3,500 less people than in 2017.
People in Georgia and Alabama still have until the end of the month to enroll, but the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the deadline extension was poorly publicized and many, including insurance brokers, were unaware of the provision. Those wishing to take advantage of the special enrollment period must sign up over the phone, not online, by calling 1-800-318-2596.
The CMS numbers are not final and provide just a snapshot of enrollment — since only 39 states use the HealthCare.gov platform, people may not pay premiums to effectuate coverage and deadlines are later in some areas – but they come as a shock to most experts.
Down from 2017 by: 8,391
Down from 2017 by: 10,976
Down from 2017 by: 3,632
*2018 enrollment ends Dec. 31
Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Enrollment this year was projected to be much lower, partly because President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress repeatedly tried to take down so-called "Obamacare." Other obstacles included an enrollment period half the length of last year's and a significant reduction in federal funds used to provide enrollment assistance and marketing.
"This [enrollment] number is higher than anyone expected, and has to be considered a success," Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation told the Associated Press.
The numbers came a day after Trump proclaimed that the Republican tax bill "essentially repealed Obamacare." The tax overhaul repealed only the individual mandate that fined people without qualifying health insurance, starting in 2019.
While that move is expected to weaken the ACA, other major elements of the law remain in place, including protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, subsidies to help consumers pay their premiums and requirements that insurers cover "essential" health benefits.
However, the administration also took steps to facilitate enrollment, such as creating an easier path for insurers and brokers to sign up customers.
In Twitter messages last week, CMS head Seema Verma struck an upbeat tone:
"We take pride in providing great customer service," she wrote, congratulating her agency on "the smoothest experience for consumers to date."
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423-757-6673. The Associated Press contributed to this story.