About 8.8 million Americans signed up for a 2018 health insurance plan through HealthCare.gov, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Thursday. That's a small drop from the 9.2 million people who signed up for a 2017 plan on the federal marketplace ... and, honestly, pretty impressive, given there was half the time and a fraction of the budget to get people signed up this year.
Those numbers aren't final. Due to unexpected volume on Dec. 15, HealthCare.gov allowed people leaving a name and number on its hotline to enroll after the official deadline. Per its release, the 8.8 million doesn't include those shoppers. It also doesn't include state-run exchanges, many of which are actually still open, though neither does the 9.2 million tally for last year. Numbers could also change due to modifications or cancellations.
Between Dec. 7 and Dec. 15, people selected or auto-enrolled in a whopping 4,143,968 plans on Healthcare.gov.
How did this happen?
Unclear. A CMS adminstrator was touting efficiency on Twitter late Thursday. More likely, Republicans' repeated repeal attempts and the Trump administration's blatant efforts to undermine former President Barack Obama's health care law generated a lot of free press (and goodwill). Activists and insurers rushed to fill the $90 million advertising void, shortly after it was announced in October, while state commissioners did what they could to mitigate premium increases related to political uncertainty.
Plus, a last-minute move from President Donald Trump — in which he ceased paying cost-sharing subsidies to insurers who give low-income Americans added discounts — unwittingly lowered the price of exchange plans for people qualifying for subsidies. (Here's how.) News of $0 bronze plans and affordable gold plans could have lured reluctant shoppers to the marketplace.
What does this mean for Obamacare 2019?
Also unclear. A few states were in crisis mode leading up to open enrollment this year, with a few only securing one insurer to offer plans in some counties. Moreover, people who didn't qualify for subsidies still faced high prices, and some were pushed off the exchanges.
Nothing's been done to address these issues. In fact, just this week, Republicans succeeded in overturning Obamacare's individual mandate as part of their broader tax bill. The mandate, which stipulates people buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty, is considered instrumental to keeping plans affordable because it pushes healthy people to sign up. But its enforcement has been in question since Trump took office, so better-than-expected turnout this year is encouraging.
Tax penalty aside, people need health insurance. They'll purchase plans on the exchanges when they're affordable. Whether you'll be able to find health care next year largely comes down to what, if anything, Congress does to stablize the market.
Need health insurance?
If you missed federal open enrollment, there's a chance you can still get a 2018 health care plan. Most state exchanges are open, a few through January. Plus, some people living in areas hit by hurricanes have until Dec. 31 to sign up for coverage. Check here to see if any extensions apply to you.
If they don't, you need to qualify for a special enrollment period to get a plan. Special enrollment periods are tied to big life events, like getting married, having a baby or moving across zip codes. If you don't fall into any of those buckets, there are health insurance alternatives worth looking into. Some private insurers sell off-exchange plans outside of open enrollment. There's also short-term health insurance, limited benefit plans, health care sharing ministries and prescription discount cards, which you can learn more about here.