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Obamacare sign-ups fall 4% this year to 8.5 million amid uncertainty

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Sign-ups on the federal health insurance marketplace haven been lower throughout this enrollment season compared with last year, according to figures from the CMS. However, the federal agency said it saw the highest traffic of the open enrollment period last Monday, the same day Obama and other high-profile Democrats made a last-minute push to encourage sign-ups.

The data doesn’t include data for the 11 states plus the District of Columbia, which run their own individual insurance marketplaces.

The tally was being closely watched because fiscal 2019 was the first enrollment season since Congress repealed the individual mandate, which imposed a tax penalty on consumers without coverage. It was designed to persuade people to buy insurance instead of paying the extra tax, which was the greater of $695 per adult or up to 2.5 percent of household income, depending on how many months an individual went without coverage.

President Donald Trump’s changes to the ACA have been blamed for much of the drop, according to health policy researchers.

In the CMS release Wednesday, Verma blamed the lower enrollment this year in part on consumers being priced out of the market. “While enrollment remained steady through HealthCare.gov, many Americans don’t qualify for subsidies on HealthCare.gov and remain priced out of the insurance market. At the end of the day, lower premiums will lead to increased enrollment,” she said.

To be sure, the tight labor market is playing at least some role in lowering Obamacare enrollment figures this season. Historically low unemployment, which was at 3.7 percent in November, is helping reduce dependence on the federal health program as more Americans are getting their health insurance from employers.

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