Despite less financial and organizational support, it appears the number of people with health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act will be about the same next year as it was this year.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released figures Friday for the 2018 enrollment period that ended on Dec. 15.
The numbers showed that 8.8 million people signed up for Obamacare plans on the federal website during this fall’s enrollment period.
Of those, 6.4 million were people who renewed coverage. Another 2.4 million were new customers.
During the final week of enrollment, 4.1 million signed up, with 3.1 million being renewals.
The figures could go a little higher, too.
The numbers released Friday don’t include the final three hours of sign-ups on the West Coast.
Officials said the Affordable Care Act (ACA) call center received 6.3 million inquiries this enrollment period, with almost 2 million calls coming during the final week.
The federal website received 18 million visits — 5.6 million of those coming in the final week.
The insurance plans for these enrollees will begin on Jan. 1.
The figures are for the 39 states that use the federal HealthCare.gov website.
Last year, 9.2 million people signed up for health insurance plans on that site.
The other 11 states have later deadlines. California, New York, and Washington, D.C., allow consumers to sign up until Jan. 31.
On those individual state sites last year, 3 million people enrolled in healthcare plans.
That brought the total ACA enrollment to 12.2 million.
Who gets the credit?
The Trump administration was quick to take credit for the surprising number of enrollees.
Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the Washington Examiner that the ACA success was due to efficient use of government funding this year and a strong, well-run website.
She noted the White House spent only $10 million on ACA marketing and outreach this year, compared to $100 million last year by the Obama administration.
“Our goal from the beginning was to empower patients across the healthcare delivery system and make sure that Americans who chose to enroll in the exchanges had a good customer experience while making enrollment more cost efficient, and the results show that we accomplished our goal,” Verma said in a statement.
Advocates for Obamacare saw it a little differently.
They said the sign-ups show the strength of the ACA system.
“The Affordable Care Act is working and people’s lives are improving because of it," Brad Woodhouse, director of the pro-Obamacare group Protect Our Care, told the Examiner. “These numbers prove that people want and need the affordable, quality health coverage the ACA provides. They rely on it for health and financial peace of mind.”
Lori Lodes, who ran Obamacare outreach under the former administration and now works for Get America Covered, told the Examiner that the demand “speaks volumes — proving, yet again, the staying power of the marketplaces.”
Democratic leaders and consumer advocates have accused the Trump administration of trying to sabotage Obamacare enrollment.
They noted the White House cut the enrollment period in half. In addition, the administration reduced television advertising by 90 percent.
Ironically, one study concluded that consumers saw more advertising for health insurance this year because of an increase in ads from states, insurance companies, and advocacy groups.
Nonetheless, there was still confusion among many consumers.
A survey by Policygenius in late October showed that 76 percent of Americans didn’t know when the enrollment period ended.
In addition, nearly 1 in 5 people surveyed didn’t know the ACA was still the law of the land.
A last-minute surge
There was a flurry of activity last week as the Dec. 15 federal deadline approached.
Federal officials told CNN that visits had soared to the HealthCare.gov site on the night before the deadline.
On Dec. 15, consumers were reporting 30-minute waits to talk with ACA advisers.
In response, Trump administration officials announced they’d allow some leeway for consumers who couldn’t get through by the Dec. 15 deadline.
Those participants will be allowed to sign up for insurance plans once federal health officials get in touch with them.
In response to demand, Maryland officials announced last week that they had extended their enrollment deadline to Dec. 22.
Covered California extended its deadline for people to get insurance that takes effect Jan. 1. Consumers now have until Dec. 22 to get immediate coverage.
In addition, Florida extended their deadline for people affected by the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma as it roared through the state in September.
Insurance companies were also pushing enrollment.
The American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) organization held a live Facebook event on Dec. 11 to answer questions and encourage people to sign up.
Why enrollment is important
The effects of having fewer enrollees could’ve been far reaching, experts told Healthline in early December.
They said a smaller pool of consumers would result in higher premiums as insurance companies have fewer healthier customers to balance the costs of their more expensive, unhealthier participants.
In addition, there would be fewer plans for consumers to choose from as insurance companies drop out of what they consider to be a not-so-lucrative market.
This all could be complicated further in 2018 with the tax cut bill that was approved by Congress this week and will be signed soon by President Trump.
That bill has a provision that eliminates the individual mandate requirement in the ACA.
Most experts say the mandate is needed to make sure there are enough healthy people in the ACA pool.