Government & Politics

Future of Obamacare may be in doubt, but enrollments grew for 2017

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that there have been 400,000 more health insurance plan selections through the Affordable Care Act marketplace compared to the same time a year ago.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that there have been 400,000 more health insurance plan selections through the Affordable Care Act marketplace compared to the same time a year ago. The Associated Press

A snapshot of new sign-ups for health insurance through HealthCare.gov proved that Americans don’t want to gamble with their health care, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday.

In a conference call with reporters, officials in the federal department that administers the Affordable Care Act shared new enrollment figures, indicating that 6.4 million consumers have signed up for Health Insurance Marketplace plans for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

The department said that was an increase of 400,000 plan selections compared to the same time a year ago. It included a single-day record enrollment of 670,000 on Dec. 15, the original open-enrollment deadline for next year’s coverage.

“The takeaway is there’s growth,” Burwell said.

She acknowledged that the insurance program fights “headwinds” that blew before and after the November election because of calls to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. But the secretary said, “People are expressing that this is a product they want and need by signing up.”

The figures released Wednesday included insurance plans selected from Nov. 1 through the extended open-enrollment deadline of Dec. 19. Of the total, 73,181 came from enrollees in the Kansas City area, the data showed.

Missouri and Kansas are among 39 states that participate in the federal marketplace through HealthCare.gov. The “snapshot” report showed 185,413 enrollments in Missouri and 72,992 in Kansas as of Dec. 19.

The 6.4 million enrollments included 2.05 million new consumers and 4.31 million returning consumers actively renewing their coverage, but it didn’t include consumers whose coverage is expected to be renewed automatically Jan. 1. The automatic renewal numbers and detailed state-based enrollment figures, with comparable year-to-year comparisons, will be available in January.

Burwell said she hoped the national political conversation will “move from rhetoric to reality and what this means to real people across the country, whether they get insurance through the marketplace or through their jobs.”

Burwell and acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt generally deflected cost-increase questions to concentrate on the enrollment message. In response to repeated questions, they noted that a majority of consumers can find plans on the marketplace that cost just $75 a month.

Sharon Pace of Kansas City, Kan., relies on Obamacare to help her cover her health needs and would receive a dramatic reduction in costs through it next year. Pace fears the financial and health fallout if the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamaca

The secretary said Health and Human Services call centers have received 30,000 calls from consumers worried about losing coverage.

“The best thing for consumers to do right now is shop and get covered,” she urged, adding that 2017 sign-ups will constitute contracts for 2017 that won’t be broken however the political winds blow.

She said studies indicate that 30 million Americans could lose health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed without replacement in place.

Burwell and Slavitt emphasized that the Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land.

Slavitt also appealed to people’s sense of security, arguing that a hospital bill of, say, $20,000 doesn’t seem real until you get it or until you get prescribed an expensive medication. Then, he said, monthly policy costs seem like a better deal.

Asked to list three ways the Affordable Care Act might be improved, Burwell said the focus should be on competition to lower rates and make plans more affordable; that there should be a public option when there’s no competition to drive plan prices and quality; and that Health and Human Services should use its purchasing power to negotiate down the high costs of some drugs.

Burwell said Health and Human Services will continue a “hard push” for 2017 enrollments in the next six weeks, particularly targeting social media and advertising.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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