Nearly 9 million Americans signed up for Affordable Care Act health plans for 2018 in the 39 states relying on the federal HealthCare.gov website, approaching the 2017 total despite an enrollment season cut by half and other tactics by the Trump administration to undermine the law’s insurance marketplaces.
The figure of approximately 8.8 million sign-ups was tweeted Thursday afternoon by Seema Verma, administrator of the Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That represents an unexpectedly robust turnout, which compares with the 9.2 million consumers who got coverage for 2017 during a three-month sign-up period that ended last January.
The enrollment figure that Verma made public includes an unknown number of people who currently have ACA health plans and were automatically renewed by the government just after the Dec. 15 deadline because they had not selected insurance for next year.
The tally does not include people signing up in states that run their own insurance marketplaces under the law or several states in the federal exchange where enrollment seasons were extended until late December because they were affected by hurricanes and other major storms during the fall. Because of Hurricane Irma, Florida’s enrollment deadline has been extended to Dec. 31.
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Even so, Verma’s figure defies widespread expectations of both supporters and opponents of the 2010 health-care law that enrollment would slump sharply as the Obama administration’s boosterism gave way to the aggressive opposition of President Trump and congressional Republicans — who have been trying all year to repeal much of the ACA.
In addition to shortening the enrollment period by half, the administration cut by 90 percent federal spending on advertising and other outreach activities to urge consumers to sign up. Funding for enrollment “navigators” was cut by about two-fifths. And amid the political turmoil of the ACA, surveys and on-the-ground reports of those enrollment helpers suggested public confusion over whether the law and its marketplaces still existed.
In her upbeat tweet, Verma conveyed no hint of the administrator’s antipathy toward the law. “Great job,” she wrote of agency officials “for the work you did to make this the smoothest experience for consumers to date. We take pride in providing great customer service.”