Obamacare enrollment gaps start to show as deadline looms

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Jeanine SkowronskiFormer Head of Content at PolicygeniusJeanine Skowronski is the former head of content at Policygenius in New York City. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, American Banker Magazine, Newsweek, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, MSN, CNBC and more.

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Cracks in "Obamacare" enrollment are starting to show.

Per the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 823,180 people selected health insurance plans through Healthcare.gov between Nov. 26 and Dec. 2, 2018, bringing the total number of enrollees thus far to 3,604,440.

On the surface, those numbers look solid — and they are. As previously reported, 2018 enrollment has significantly bested signups for 2017 week over week since the exchanges opened.

But there's a big cloud over the data: Healthcare.gov closes on Dec. 15. Last year, it was open until Jan. 30.

That means 5.5 million people would have to sign up between Dec. 3 and Dec. 15 to match the 9.2 million customers that got a plan through the federal marketplace for 2017.

It's unlikely that will happen, even if there's a last-minute surge or a large numbers of Americans have opted to auto-enroll for a plan once Healthcare.gov closes. (Note: These numbers exclude enrollment through state-run exchanges, many of which are open longer this year.)

No real surprise here

The idea that 2018 open enrollment would exceed 2017 numbers was always a longshot.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's health care law, has long-faced fire from Republicans, who currently control the House and Senate, and President Donald Trump has taken dramatic steps to undermine the law since taking office.

His efforts — which are hard not to call "sabotage" — include the shortened enrollment window, a slashed advertising budget, the cut of a key Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act subsidy and provision rollbacks via executive order.

It doesn't help either that Senate Republicans recently passed a tax bill that repeals the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. The mandate, which requires Americans buy health insurance or face a tax penalty, is instrumental in getting healthy people to the exchanges.

Still time left

The mandate repeal isn't official yet. Senate and House republicans have to reconcile differences in the tax bill each branch passed.

But the mandate isn't really a reason to buy health insurance anyway. Illness and injury aren't known to discriminate and the cost of health care absent insurance is notoriously high.

Plus, many people are finding affordable plans on the exchanges. Some Americans are even getting bronze plans for free (here's why). So, if you need health insurance, the marketplace is worth at least checking out. And, if you can't find an affordable plan, you do have a few alternatives, including off-exchange plans, short-term health insurance, health care sharing ministries and limited benefit plans.

We've got a guide to finding health insurance here.

Federal open enrollment ends Dec. 15.

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