The number of Americans signing up for 2017 health plans through HealthCare.gov is running slightly ahead of a year ago, even as President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican Congress prepare to dismantle the law that provides the coverage.
Customers new to the Affordable Care Act marketplaces account for just 25 percent of the enrollment so far, however, compared with almost 40 percent at about the same time last year, according to figures released Wednesday by federal health officials.
In their waning weeks in office, members of the Obama administration have been eager to portray the millions of consumers still flocking to Affordable Care Act health plans as evidence of the political risks the next administration and GOP lawmakers may face in carrying out Trump’s campaign vow to repeal the 2010 law.
“Momentum building. . . Americans want coverage,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell tweeted Wednesday afternoon.
The sign-up figures issued by Burwell’s aides run through Dec. 10, and they show that 4 million people had chosen health plans since enrollment began Nov. 1. That compares with 3.75 million who chose plans during the same 40-day window a year ago. Coverage takes effect after an individual begins to pay the monthly insurance premiums.
The figures include the 39 states that rely on HealthCare.gov and the federal insurance exchange website and exclude D.C., Maryland and 10 other states that run their own marketplaces.
The latest enrollment snapshot arrived a day before Thursday’s deadline for people who want their Affordable Care Act plan in place on New Year’s Day. Judging by the pattern from the marketplaces’ three previous years, sign-ups usually surge as that deadline approaches. Such a buildup appeared to be materializing again this week; a total of 700,000 people enrolled through HealthCare.gov on Monday and Tuesday.
But that falls far short of the record 600,000 people who enrolled on Dec. 15, 2015.
Last year, administration officials regarded the pace of enrollment as such good news that President Obama announced at his last 2015 news conference that nearly 6 million people had signed up through HealthCare.gov by then.
Beyond the uncertainty over the health law’s future, the current sign-up season will be caught in the transition of power in Washington. The three-month open-enrollment period is scheduled to last through the end of January – 11 days past Trump’s inauguration.
Transition officials have not said whether they plan to finish out the enrollment as usual and whether they will observe other Affordable Care Act customs created by the Obama administration, including a final tally of the people who gain coverage and who qualify for federal insurance subsidies under the law.
GOP congressional leaders, as eager as the incoming president to abolish the health law, have been emphasizing lately that they want to avoid an abrupt change or loss of coverage for the approximately 10 million Americans with marketplace health plans and a roughly equal number with lower incomes who have gained Medicaid benefits under the law.
For that reason, administration officials have been urging people to sign up. Noting the 4 million who had enrolled at last count, Burwell’s tweet said, “You can too.”