Trump election helps spur record Obamacare signups

More than 100,000 consumers signed up Wednesday for Obamacare plans on the federal exchange than any day since open enrollment started Nov.1, the Obama administration said Thursday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the news in a tweet. The new number represented the people who submitted an application and chose a plan on Healthcare.gov  Wednesday.

“That’s an indication of the intense demand for the kinds of offerings that are available to people at Healthcare.gov,"  said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

Earnest noted that increasing enrollment helps the system, “put downward pressure on the premiums paid by everybody.”

President-elect Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Republican members of Congress, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, declared their intention to do so yesterday as well.

Spokespeople for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Anxiety about the future of Obamacare shouldn’t discourage people from signing up, said Earnest.

“These are benefits that are available to them today, and we’d certainly encourage people to sign up,” he said. “The president elect is going to make his own decisions and worries about those future decisions shouldn’t have any impact on anybody capitalizing on the opportunities that are available to them today on healthcare.gov.”

Concerns about what will happen to their health insurance replaced earlier laments about soaring health insurance premiums. HHS launched its advertising, marketing and outreach efforts Wednesday, because it assumed consumers would be focused on the election earlier in the month.

James Wadleigh, CEO of Access Health CT, reminded Connecticut residents that there are no changes to the law at this point.

“If you have health insurance through the exchange, you’ll still be covered. If you don’t, we encourage you to reach out and enroll," he said in a statement.

Some of the signups were clearly driven by fear of what happens to their plans.

That's what drove Rita Gibbs, a real estate agent in Tucson, to sign up on Healthcare.gov on Wednesday.

"I’m horrified about the election results and extremely worried what will happen to my health care," Gibbs, 54, said in an email. "Everyone I know who gets insurance via the Marketplace is freaked out."

Monday, she told USA TODAY that "Obamacare is a middle-class nightmare." She earns about $40,000 a year and had to return nearly all of her subsidy for 2015 because she made more money than expected. After the ACA was passed, her premiums went up but the coverage was far better than her pre-ACA plan, which only covered catastrophic care.

This year, she only has one insurer to choose from and despite a subsidized $225 premium, she thinks her $4,500 deductible makes the plan more like her original catastrophic plan.  The alternatives worry her more, though.

"I agree that Obamacare needs to be fixed but a total repeal scares me, especially with the Republicans in control," Gibbs said. "I fear they will go back to the free market capitalism version of healthcare and once again, the large insurance and pharmaceutical companies and their powerful lobbyists will run the show. "

A total repeal of the ACA would be very difficult, as some provisions have strong support, the health care industry has implemented many of the law's sweeping mandates and hospitals don't want millions of uninsured patients again. Legislation and hospitals that passed both houses of Congress last year before it was vetoed by President Obama would have left more than 20 million people without insurance. It would have eliminated the subsidies to help them pay for it, the penalties if they don't buy it and the taxes to cover the costs.

Health care economist John Goodman, who advises Republican members of Congress, says that’s something neither party is likely to vote for without the assurance of a presidential veto.

Deborah Dubnow voted for Trump in part because of his ideas on health insurance. She supports allowing insurers to sell across state lines and hopes that making it more competitive among the remaining insurers on the exchange will bring prices down.

"We are getting ripped off still for our health insurance in this country," said Dubnow, who lives in California.

She's worried Medicare will be bankrupt at some point after she qualifies in five years, but doesn't think the ACA's approach to lowering costs is the answer.

"I think Obamacare was a huge mistake," she said. "And, then to penalize people for not having health insurance?  That is so contradictory because the people that don’t have it can’t afford it anyway and therefore, how are they going to pay for being penalized?"

Health care experts assure that all sides will push for a reasonable transition, if required.

"We also have a commitment to continuous coverage," said Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the trade group representing insurers. "Consumers should be covered and patients should be protected — and sudden disruptions would jeopardize both."

Consumers, patients, and insurers need "enough time, flexibility and support so that any changes ensure safe and stable coverage, " she added in a statement.

That should be some solace to consumers like Gibbs.

"For now, assuming that my contract for 2017 is honored, I am OK, but God only knows what the future will bring," she says.

Contributing: Gregory Korte


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