Oba­macare dead­line gets ex­ten­sion as plan sign-ups surge.

Urg­ing Amer­i­cans to ig­nore Trump’s ‘re­peal and re­place’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Pres­i­dent Obama on Fri­day said 670,000 peo­ple se­lected a health plan on the fed­eral Oba­macare web­site Thurs­day — the dead­line for be­ing cov­ered at the start of 2017 — mak­ing it the all-time busiest day for Health­Care.gov.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion cited “ex­tra­or­di­nary de­mand” in grant­ing cus­tomers an ex­tra four days to com­plete their en­roll­ment, as Mr. Obama tries to beat back political and fi­nan­cial head­winds to his sig­na­ture do­mes­tic achieve­ment.

Con­sumers who wanted to hold cov­er­age as of Jan. 1 were sup­posed to sign up by mid­night Thurs­day. Yet of­fi­cials said peo­ple who’d started the process could fin­ish up through 11:59 p.m. Monday, Pa­cific time.

The ex­ten­sion was un­ex­pected yet not sur­pris­ing — it had been a stan­dard fea­ture of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s ear­lier rounds, akin to al­low­ing peo­ple to vote if they get in line be­fore the polls close.

“Hun­dreds of thou­sands have al­ready se­lected plans over the last few days, and nearly a mil­lion of you have left con­tact in­for­ma­tion to hold your place in line. We want to make sure all of you have ac­cess to af­ford­able cov­er­age. These ad­di­tional days will give you a chance to come back and com­plete your en­roll­ment for cov­er­age start­ing Jan. 1,” of­fi­cials said late Thurs­day in a mes­sage on Health­Care.gov, which serves 39 states.

State-run ex­changes an­nounced their own ex­ten­sions, in­clud­ing an ex­tra four days in Cal­i­for­nia, where en­roll­ment is slightly ahead of last year’s pace (7,000 peo­ple).

Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia ini­tially pushed the cut­off to Satur­day, only to then ex­tend it to Monday to align with the fed­eral ex­change’s plans.

“This strong de­mand shows that Cal­i­for­ni­ans are us­ing the com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place that Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia pro­vides,” said Peter V. Lee, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia. “We are ahead of last year’s pace and are giv­ing our Ser­vice Cen­ter staff and cer­ti­fied en­rollers the time they need to bring health care cov­er­age to thou­sands more.”

The Obama White House is urg­ing mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to brush aside GOP talk of “re­peal and “re­place” and sign up be­fore key dead­lines, so it is more dif­fi­cult for Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to un­ravel its gains af­ter tak­ing of­fice on Jan. 20, or 11 days be­fore 2017 open en­roll­ment ends.

Oba­macare has been bat­tered by dwin­dling choices and ris­ing pre­mi­ums on its web-based ex­changes, fu­el­ing talk of re­peal af­ter vot­ers handed Repub­li­cans the keys to health care re­form in the Novem­ber elec­tions.

“If the open en­roll­ment pe­riod proves suc­cess­ful and sign-ups grow, it’s a clear sign that the law is not col­laps­ing,” said Larry Le­vitt, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at the non­par­ti­san Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. “That prob­a­bly won’t stop the re­peal of the law, but could make it a bit more dif­fi­cult. If en­roll­ment grows, it makes it more likely that po­ten­tial mar­ket chaos in­tro­duced by re­peal and de­lay could get blamed on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Repub­li­cans in Congress.”

In­deed, the GOP faces a tough task ahead. It is plot­ting to ful­fill its cam­paign prom­ises by us­ing fast-track bud­get rules to swiftly re­peal the law, while freez­ing as­pects of it in place to bridge mil­lions of cov­ered Amer­i­cans over to a re­place­ment, al­though Repub­li­cans haven’t set­tled on an ac­tual plan.

An­a­lysts say re­peal­ing the law with­out a smooth tran­si­tion could have dis­as­trous ef­fects for cur­rent en­rollees, be­cause in­sur­ers who’ve al­ready lost money on the ex­changes will flee a pro­gram that’s po­lit­i­cally doomed.

For now, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to take ad­van­tage of tax­payer-funded sub­si­dies that will make 2017 cov­er­age more af­ford­able, or else risk fi­nan­cial penal­ties that will re­main in place un­til the GOP-con­trolled Congress and Mr. Trump de­cide to scrap the “in­di­vid­ual man­date” re­quir­ing Amer­i­cans to hold in­sur­ance or pay a tax.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion said 2017 sign-ups through Dec. 10 ex­ceeded last year’s by 250,000, though its per­for­mance through the mid-De­cem­ber dead­line will shed light on whether the ad­min­is­tra­tion can draw new cus­tomers and meet its tar­get of 13.8 mil­lion cus­tomers by Jan. 31 — com­pared to 12.7 mil­lion who ini­tially signed up for 2016.

“We won’t know for sure un­til the fi­nal num­bers come in, but this cer­tainly looks like a strong surge in en­roll­ment,” Mr. Le­vitt said. “There has been a lot of at­ten­tion sur­round­ing the ACA fol­low­ing the elec­tion, but it’s mostly been about the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the fu­ture of the law. It’s hard to say whether the neg­a­tive at­ten­tion has caused peo­ple to hes­i­tate about sign­ing up or made the ACA top of mind and en­cour­aged en­roll­ment.”

Mr. Obama cel­e­brated the law’s gains dur­ing his year-end press con­fer­ence Fri­day, say­ing his re­forms in­sured roughly 20 mil­lion of the 44 mil­lion who lacked in­sur­ance when he took of­fice in 2009.

“For the first time in our his­tory,” he said, “more than 90 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are in­sured.”

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