En­roll­ment num­bers fall for Af­ford­able Care Act

The tally still rep­re­sents growth over 2014, ac­cord­ing to up­dated fig­ures.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Noam N. Levey noam.levey@la­times.com

WASH­ING­TON — Na­tion­wide en­roll­ment in health plans pro­vided through the Af­ford­able Care Act slipped to 10.2 mil­lion in March as con­sumers dropped cov­er­age or failed to pay pre­mi­ums on poli­cies they se­lected, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Tues­day.

That is down from 11.7 mil­lion sign-ups recorded in Fe­bru­ary when the 2015 en­roll­ment pe­riod closed.

The tally still rep­re­sents growth over 2014, when 6.3 mil­lion peo­ple were en­rolled in health plans at the end of the year, ac­cord­ing to up­dated 2014 fig­ures also re­leased Tues­day.

The new data also un­der­scored how many con­sumers rely on fed­eral in­sur­ance sub­si­dies made avail­able by the law. About 85% of 2015 en­rollees are get­ting as­sis­tance to buy cov­er­age on the mar­ket­places.

How long that as­sis­tance will re­main avail­able is un­clear, how­ever. The Supreme Court is ex­pected to rule this month in a chal­lenge that claims the law pro­hibits th­ese sub­si­dies in states that are not op­er­at­ing their own in­sur­ance mar­ket­places through the health law.

The law al­lows Amer­i­cans who don’t get health benefits at work to shop among plans on state-based mar­ket­places op­er­ated by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment or by the states them­selves, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Con­necti­cut and Mary­land.

Con­sumers mak­ing less than four times the fed­eral poverty level — or about $97,000 for a fam­ily of four — qual­ify for sub­si­dies.

In­sur­ers must pro­vide a ba­sic set of benefits and can­not turn away con­sumers, even if they are sick.

Sus­tained growth in en­roll­ment is con­sid­ered key to re­duc­ing the num­ber of unin­sured and keep­ing pre­mi­ums in check by get­ting health­ier Amer­i­cans into the mar­ket, key goals of the law The health in­sur­ance mar­ket­places are work­ing,” Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Sylvia Mathews Bur­well said Tues­day.

Mul­ti­ple sur­veys over the last year have recorded his­toric de­clines in the num­ber of unin­sured since the law’s ma­jor cov­er­age ex­pan­sion be­gan in 2014. Rand Corp., a Santa Mon­ica non­profit re­search firm, last month re­ported that the num­ber of Amer­i­cans with­out cov­er­age de­clined by nearly 17 mil­lion.

The legal chal­lenge be­fore the Supreme Court may af­fect as many as 7.5 mil­lion con­sumers in 37 states.

There is also grow­ing ev­i­dence that un­cer­tainty over the case may be push­ing up in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums, as in­sur­ers pre­pare for ma­jor dis­rup­tions that would be caused by the elim­i­na­tion of sub­si­dies.

Joe Raedle Getty Images

IN MIAMI, Noel Nogues helps Ariel Fer­nan­dez sign up for the Af­ford­able Care Act in Fe­bru­ary. New data show that na­tion­wide, en­roll­ment is down as con­sumers drop cov­er­age or fail to pay their pre­mi­ums.

Don Ryan As­so­ci­ated Press

SUS­TAINED GROWTH in Oba­macare en­roll­ment is con­sid­ered key to keep­ing pre­mi­ums in check.

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