Interest in Obamacare Coverage Surges With Arrival of Trump Era

Calls pour in from people nervous about losing their plans

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)
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)
Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:51pm

Insurance agents are facing an uptick in calls from people nervous about losing their health care coverage under a Trump administration, industry officials said Monday.

“With the election, people are hearing about this repeal and they want to know: ‘Does this mean it’s all going away and we’re going to lose everything?’” said Scott Leavitt, an agent in Boise, Idaho. “People are uncertain about what’s going to happen because of the election. The point is we don’t know.”

The day after the election, traffic on the federal Healthcare.gov website spiked, with about 100,000 people signing up for coverage under President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health care law. The Department of Health and Human Services plans to release additional enrollment statistics this week, said administration officials.

The open enrollment period started Nov. 1 and is supposed to run through Jan. 31 for 2017 coverage. HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell projected that as many as 13.8 million people would sign up or renew during this year’s open enrollment period, up from 12.7 million sign-ups and renewals during the previous period.

Leavitt, who says he is a distant relative of former Bush administration HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, said that customers had been primarily concerned before the election about problems with marketplace plans. Premiums for benchmark silver-level plans are going up on average by 25 percent for coverage next year under the health law. More than one-third of counties across the nation were expected to have a single insurer’s plans to choose from. Obama administration officials emphasized that subsidies go up as premiums rise and that 77 percent of consumers would still be able to buy coverage for $100 per month or less. But customers who were clearly concerned about diminishing coverage and rising costs were contacting agents for guidance in navigating the difficult terrain.

Now the conversation is shifting.

“In almost every conversation, the question comes up: ‘So is this all going to be gone at the end of the year?’” Leavitt said. “It’s on the minds of almost everyone. ‘What does the future hold now?’”

[GOP ‘Undermined’ Health Law’s Progress, Obama Says]

Insurance company officials, hospitals and other industries that benefit from the health care law’s coverage are also concerned. If Republicans do not create alternative coverage to replace the subsidies and mandates that are pillars of the law, about 22 million people could lose coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

President-elect Donald Trump said in a Sunday interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Republicans would “simultaneously” repeal the health law and replace it with a health plan.

“We’re not going to have a two-year period where there’s nothing,” said Trump. “It will be repealed and replaced. And we’ll know. And it’ll be great health care for much less money.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Monday that the party would do as much as possible to provide a smooth transition.

“This is a top priority and we’ll figure out the best structure to be able to make it past the House, the Senate and signed into law in the timing that gives less disruption to the individual, but gives them more choice, gives them lower cost and more options,” the California Republican said.

The reconciliation bill that Republicans cleared earlier this year, and which Obama vetoed, would have eliminated marketplace subsidies as of Dec. 31, 2017, providing almost two years for insurers and consumers to adjust. However, that timeframe is ambitious, given that Republicans do not yet agree on a consensus replacement bill, congressional debate will likely take months and regulations will need to be written.

Rebecca Adams and Joe Williams contributed to this report.