No surge of new customers in early Obamacare enrollment figures

Open enrollment for Obamacare plans began November 1st. So far, the number of new people signing up for Obamacare plans is down somewhat compared to last year.

Figures released by the Obama administration show that just over one million people have signed up in the first 12 days of enrollment. That’s very close to the enrollment figures during the first two weeks of last year’s open enrollment. However a larger percentage of those enrolling this year are returning customers. From the Associated Press:

The figures released Wednesday by the Obama administration represent steady sign-ups but no enrollment surge so far.

The overall number is fairly comparable to early sign-ups last year, but the share of new customers is down. They accounted for 24 percent of the total so far this year, compared with 34 percent in the first two weeks of last year’s open enrollment season. Nearly 1.1 million people had enrolled last year by about the same time.

The new numbers can’t be directly compared to the old ones because this year CMS put out data for the first 12 days rather than the first fourteen days. However, what we’re seeing so far is previous enrollees signing up faster than last year while new enrollees are signing up slower. Charles Gaba at ACAsignups noted the difference in a post today [Emphasis in original]:

However, due to the whole unknown active renewal/passive renewal/new enrollee situation prior to 12/15, it’s also worth noting the new vs renewal numbers:

  • OE3: 14 days: 711,400 renewals (50,800/day)
  • OE4: 12 days: 761,784 renewals (63,500/day)

Current enrollees are actively renewing their policies 25% faster so far.

  • OE3: 14 days: 366,476 new enrollees (26,176/day)
  • OE4: 12 days: 246,433 new enrollees (20,536/day)

New enrollees are signing up at a rate 22% lower so far.

Gaba says it’s impossible to tell, at this point, what this shift means. Given that there are nearly 11 weeks left in this open enrollment period (which ends January 31st), he’s right that these numbers could shift either way between now and then. So making a prediction based on 12 days of data probably isn’t a good idea.

What is fair to say is that, so far, new enrollment is not surging. In fact, it is lagging out of the gate. That could be the result of concern about higher premiums (which are up an average of 22% this year) or it could be connected to Donald Trump’s election, which could put the entire law, or portions of it, on the chopping-block next year. Maybe some people are looking to see where things might be headed before they decide whether to enroll this year. It’s worth keeping an eye on given that this year’s final enrollment tally could be critical in the decision insurers make next year about whether or not to keep offering Obamacare plans going forward.