Oba­macare en­roll­ment up, but GOP vows its end

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Amer­i­cans signed up for Oba­macare at a faster clip this year than in 2015, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ported Wed­nes­day, putting the pro­gram on pace to meet Pres­i­dent Obama’s wa­tered-down en­roll­ment goals and stiff­en­ing spines of Democrats hop­ing to pre­serve it against GOP at­tacks.

The vast ma­jor­ity of en­rollees were ex­ist­ing cus­tomers re-up­ping for another year, while new en­roll­ments were down com­pared to 2015 — high­light­ing the chal­lenge Mr. Obama faces in try­ing to shore up his law be­fore he leaves of­fice.

The over­haul’s web-based ex­changes need an in­flux of new, healthy en­rollees to make the eco­nom­ics work out.

“We’re go­ing to keep mov­ing for­ward. We’re go­ing to fin­ish this open en­roll­ment by try­ing to en­roll more peo­ple than ever,” Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Sylvia Mathews Bur­well said, de­tail­ing fi­nal num­bers af­ter the mid-De­cem­ber dead­line to sign up for cov­er­age be­gin­ning at the start of the new year.

Al­ready suf­fer­ing from ris­ing pre­mi­ums and dwin­dling choices, Oba­macare took another blow in Novem­ber when Repub­li­cans won the White House and kept con­trol of both cham­bers in Congress, cre­at­ing an op­por­tu­nity to make good on the GOP’s oft-re­peated pledge to re­peal the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act.

Mr. Trump will be sworn in Jan. 20, or just be­fore the 2017 open en­roll­ment pe­riod ends, and the prospect of Repub­li­cans in con­trol is al­ready playing out.

HHS of­fi­cials said more than 30,000 peo­ple have asked their call cen­ters if they should bother sign­ing up. The ad­min­is­tra­tion said it urged them to en­roll any­way.

As of the mid-De­cem­ber dead­line, 6.4 mil­lion peo­ple had signed up on Health­Care.gov, com­pared to 6 mil­lion last year at this point.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple don’t want to go back­wards, and they don’t want to gam­ble with their health care through re­peal and de­lay,” Mrs. Bur­well said.

About 4.3 mil­lion of the re­ported 6.4 mil­lion Health­Care.gov cus­tomers al­ready had cov­er­age and were re-up­ping for 2017, while roughly 2.1 mil­lion were new to the mar­ket­place.

The HHS sta­tis­tics don’t in­clude num­bers from states that run their own ex­changes.

The ex­changes need fresh blood to suc­ceed af­ter many in­sur­ers raised rates to con­tend with the high num­ber of sick cus­tomers who signed up in ear­lier rounds.

HHS said it will try to win new re­cruits with ad­ver­tis­ing and so­cial me­dia out­reach in the fi­nal six weeks of en­roll­ment, striv­ing to meet an over­all goal of 13.8 mil­lion sign-ups for the en­tire 2017 en­roll­ment pe­riod.

That would be an in­crease over the 12.7 mil­lion who ini­tially signed up for 2016 cov­er­age last year, though still short of the 15 mil­lion that con­gres­sional score­keep­ers pre­dicted just a few months ago.

“Over­all en­roll­ment is hold­ing steady, and there is ab­so­lutely no sign of an im­mi­nent im­plo­sion in spite of sig­nif­i­cant pre­mium in­creases and con­sid­er­able un­cer­tainty about the fu­ture of the law fol­low­ing the elec­tion,” said Larry Le­vitt, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at the non­par­ti­san Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

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