Obamacare enrollment dips compared to last year (but better than anticipated)

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released their final enrollment tally for 2018 today and, as expected, the numbers are down from last year. A total of 8.8 million people enrolled on the federal exchange, which covers 39 states, between November 1 and December 15th:

That result was mostly thanks to a big surge of 4.1 million people signing up (or being auto-renewed) in the final week. It means enrollment on this portion of the exchange is only down about 400,000 from last year. From CBS News:

Open enrollment in ACA health care plans resulted in about 8.8 million enrollees for 2018 coverage, slightly down from the 9.2 million enrollees announced this time last year for 2017 coverage, according to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

But the Trump administration allowed for a shorter enrollment period this time around — roughly half as long — and cut the vast majority of funding for enrollment promotion, leading many to fear enrollment would take a drastic dive.

Meanwhile, enrollment is still going on in 9 other states and the District of Columbia. Some states wrap up their enrollment in the middle of January and some, like California, keep going until Jan. 31st. In addition, several states including Texas, Florida and Louisiana will have an extended enrollment for people impacted by Hurricanes. Charles Gaba has compiled all of the state enrollment numbers available so far and says the national total is now around 11.6 million:

The national total is at least 11.6 million QHP selections,with several hundred thousand still left to go from the SBMs with later deadlines, the hurricane special enrollment period and so forth.

It’s extremely unlikely that the total will equal last year’s 12.2 million (and there’s virtually zero chance of hitting the 12.7 million record hit two years ago), but 12 million could be feasible if the state exchanges really kick butt in their extended periods…and that would be extremely impressive given everything the Trump Administration and the Congressional GOP has thrown at the ACA this year.

Honestly, if you told me enrollment might drop off less this year than it did last year, I’d have said that was pretty unlikely under the circumstances. It still hasn’t happened yet but it definitely could given that some of these states have a month of enrollment to go.

This still isn’t what anyone would call a big success. The numbers were supposed to go up each year, not decline. But many observers thought the numbers could be down 2 million or more as recently as last month, so this is a relief for the law’s supporters.

Of course, the repeal of the individual mandate is the real game changer and that doesn’t take effect until next year’s open enrollment. For now, it looks like Obamacare is struggling on, still miles below what the CBO originally predicted but doing better than many people thought it would in a tough year.