Obamacare Markets See Growth Despite Premium Hikes

Report refutes GOP predictions of ’death spiral’ for exchanges

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell projected that as many as 13.8 million people would sign up or renew marketplace plans during this year’s open enrollment period. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than 11.5 million people have signed up for individual health insurance coverage using the marketplaces established by the health care overhaul during the current enrollment period, an increase of 286,000 people compared to the same time last year, the Obama administration reported on Tuesday.

The total includes 8.7 million who signed up through HealthCare.gov and 2.8 million who enrolled through state-based marketplaces. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill congressional Republicans cleared last year that would have repealed the health care law would have eliminated coverage for about 22 million people who receive coverage either through the marketplaces or Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor. President Barack Obama vetoed that measure, which is now serving as a starting point in the current discussions about repealing the law.

The open enrollment period for the health insurance marketplaces began Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31. The latest figures represent activity as of Dec. 24. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plan to issue further updates on open enrollment on Jan. 18 and Feb. 3.

The total includes 2.5 million new customers and 8.9 million who are returning. About 9.3 million individuals who are insured through the marketplace will receive tax credits for assistance in paying premiums, according to the CMS data.

The administration is using the reports on open enrollment to refute what Republicans have described as a “death spiral” for the health exchanges established by the 2010 law.

[Interest in Obamacare Coverage Surges With Arrival of Trump Era]

“Today’s data shows that this market is not merely stable, it is actually on track for growth,” said Aviva Aron-Dine, a senior counselor at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration noted that around 70,000 people in Louisiana who were previously using plans on the marketplace would be newly eligible for Medicaid starting in July. In addition to those insured through the marketplace, more than 727,000 people in New York and Minnesota are enrolled in basic health programs set up by those states.

HHS and CMS expect further growth through the final weeks of the open enrollment period. But they said they received 35,000 queries from consumers wondering whether they should still sign up for coverage since the Republican Congress and incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump have promised to repeal the health care law.

“Without hesitation, our answer to those folks is yes,” said Christen Linke Young, deputy director of CMS’ consumer information and insurance oversight center. “The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and affordable, quality coverage remains available through HealthCare.gov.”

Enrollment using the government marketplaces grew for 2017 coverage despite the simultaneous increase in monthly premium payments, which the administration described as “an ordinary process of adjustment to a new market.”

“The higher premium increases in 2017 reflect transitional factors that will not contribute to premium increases over the longer term,” the White House Council of Economic Advisers wrote in a brief also released Tuesday. According to the council, in earlier years, premiums were underpriced and that increases in 2015 and 2016 were not enough to make up for a lack of federal reinsurance payments. This year’s increases, the brief said, could help lead to more stable prices and stronger competition in the future.

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