Obamacare enrollment brisk but deadline nears in shorter signup period

Enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act has been brisk as the deadline to sign up looms Friday, but final numbers are likely to fall short of last year regardless because the enrollment period is half as long.

In Texas, enrollment on the federal health care exchange is up nearly 30 percent, to 579,688 people, compared to the same period last year, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which released figures Wednesday for the first six weeks of open enrollment. About 4.68 million people have sign up nationally, an increase of about 17 percent.

The figures don’t include people automatically re-enrolled in their insurance plans, and they don’t include those signing up in states that operate their own exchanges.

Enrollment for 2018 insurance under the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — began Nov. 1 and runs through Friday, for a total of 45 days. Last year, the enrollment period lasted three months.

Locally, organizations that help people sign up are making a final push as the deadline nears.

The United Way for Greater Austin, with support from Central Health, is providing a call center for information and assistance during the enrollment period. To access the service, local residents can dial 211 on their phones and then press option one.

“We did 233 enrollments on Monday, and we are getting progressively busier each day” this week, said Elizabeth Colvin, director of the Insure Central Texas program at Foundation Communities. “I’m optimistically hopeful that we will meet our goal” of helping about 5,000 individuals enroll by the time open enrollment ends.

If her group reaches the target, it will have helped the same number of people sign up as it helped last year — but in half the time. Through last week, the Insure Central Texas program had helped 4,040 Central Texans sign up, about twice as many as in the same period last year.

Overall, however, enrollment statewide and nationally appears unlikely to match the numbers achieved during last year’s longer sign-up period.

Nationally, 9.2 million people signed up for insurance plans on the federal exchange during last year’s three-month open enrollment period — nearly double this year’s enrollment with Friday’s deadline approaching. A total of about 1.23 million people signed up in Texas last year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Colvin said many regions have lacked the local resources to provide the kind of promotion and support necessary to keep enrollment on track to equal last year amid the abbreviated sign-up time period.

“The burden this year fell completely on local communities” to inform people about the Affordable Care Act and help them enroll, said Colvin, whose organization focuses on the segment of citizens who need help signing up or have complex medical issues. “In other parts of Texas, they don’t have the resources to do this volume of enrollment.”

In addition to shortening the enrollment period this year, the Trump administration cut money for an annual federal campaign to promote it by 90 percent - to $10 million - and reduced funding for health care navigators, which are organizations that educate people about their insurance choices and help them sign up.

Funding for Texas navigators was cut by 34 percent this year — to $6.1 million from $9.2 million last year — according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

President Donald Trump has called the Affordable Care Act “a disaster” and has said he wants to scrap it, although Republicans in Congress have been unsuccessful in their efforts to kill the law.

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