A headline this week in The Hill shocked me: “ObamaCare enrollment strong in third week of sign-ups.” The Hill is a serious, well-respected, non-partisan news source. But any reader taking this headline at face value would be seriously misled about what is really going on with Obamacare enrollments during this fifth open enrollment season.

The Hill’s reporter correctly notes that “the pace of sign-ups has exceeded last year: In the first 26 days of last year’s open enrollment period, 2.1 million people signed up compared to the 2.3 million people who signed up the first 18 days of this year’s period.”

Those figures imply that the daily rate of sign-ups this year is outpacing last year’s rate by 58% [originally reported as 28%: Update #2]. Surely that is evidence of strong enrollment, no?

The reason it is not is buried at the tail-end of the story where the reporter notes “the enrollment period ends Dec. 15, which is about half as much time as people had to sign up last year.”

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This month marks the start of the ACA’s fifth open enrollment period for individuals who purchase health plans on their own. The November Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds three in ten of the public saying they haven’t heard anything at all about the current open enrollment period. Three in ten Americans say they have heard “a little” while four in ten say they have heard either “some” (21 percent) or “a lot” (18 percent). About half of the public (45 percent) say they have heard less about open enrollment this year compared to previous years while four in ten (38 percent) say they have heard “about the same amount.

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Consumers here at first did not believe the health insurance premiums they saw when they went shopping for coverage this month on HealthCare.gov. Only five plans were available, and for a family of four with parents in their mid-30s, the cheapest plan went typically for more than $2,400 a month, nearly $30,000 a year.

With the deadline for a decision less than a month away, consumers are desperately weighing their options, dismayed at the choices they have under the Affordable Care Act and convinced that political forces in Washington are toying with their health and well-being.

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As Open Enrollment for 2018 coverage gets underway, consumers who have health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace are again receiving renewal notices from their health insurers.  Though the insurer renewal notices are based on the same model notice required in the past, this year for many consumers, it may be causing significant – and misleading – sticker shock.

That is because renewal notices sent by insurers are required to inform consumers what their 2018 monthly premium will be, assuming they receive the same amount of advanced premium tax credit (APTC) next year that they did in 2017.  Insurer renewal notices have been required to present information this way since 2014.

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More than 600,000 people signed up last week for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, significantly beating the pace of prior years as consumers defied President Trump’s assertion that the marketplace was collapsing.

In a report on the first four days of open enrollment, the Trump administration said Thursday, 601,462 people selected health plans in the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov. Of that number, 137,322 consumers, or 23 percent, were new to the marketplace and did not have coverage this year through the federal insurance exchange.

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Uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act was a challenge for insurers and state regulators as they prepared for the 2018 plan year. Various insurers exited or reduced service areas in the health insurance marketplaces, while others threatened exits or delayed participation decisions. In several states, some or all counties seemed likely to have no insurance plan available for residents seeking marketplace coverage. But as of the start of open enrollment, no states had counties without an insurer for plan year 2018

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Since the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces opened in 2014, there have been a number of changes in insurance participation as companies entered and exited states and also changed their footprint within states. Our earlier analyses of insurer participation and some notable company exits can be found here.  Note that we consider affiliated insurers serving the same areas as one insurer.

In 2014, there were an average of 5.0 insurers participating in each state’s ACA marketplace, ranging from 1 company in New Hampshire and West Virginia to 16 companies in New York. 2015 saw a net increase in insurer participation, with an average of 6.0 insurers per state, ranging from 1 in West Virginia to 16 in New York. In 2016, insurer participation changed in a number of states due to a combination of some new entrants and the failure of a number of CO-OP plans. In 2016, the average number of companies per state was 5.6, ranging from 1 in Wyoming to 16 in Texas and Wisconsin.

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The premiums for 2018 Marketplace plans were recently released to give consumers a chance to look at their plan options before open enrollment begins on November 1. Premiums are rising significantly in many counties across the country, in part due to the decision of the Trump Administration to cease payments to insurers for cost-sharing reductions. Insurer participation also declined in many areas, leaving more counties with only one insurer, which likely contributed to the high rate of premium growth.

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In an odd twist, low-income people in about half of U.S. counties will now be able to get a taxpayer-subsidized ACA policy for free. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 1,540 counties a hypothetical 40-year-old making $25,000 a year can get a basic “bronze” plan under the ACA next year for zero monthly premium. This could become a springboard for marketing pitches by insurers as they try to sign up more consumers.

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The House and the Trump administration are asking to keep a pause on a years-long court battle over the legality of crucial ObamaCare payments to insurers, while Democratic attorneys general are seeking for the case to proceed.

In 2014, the House sued the Obama administration, arguing it was funding key payments to insurers illegally, alleging that there wasn’t a direct appropriation from Congress. The House won, and the Obama administration appealed the ruling.
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