Obamacare 2018 enrollment is still going strong ... for now

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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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As Republicans inch closer to repealing the tax penalty for skipping health insurance, former President Barack Obama's health care law is chugging along.

Signups for Healthcare.gov plans are still on the rise four weeks into the 2018 open enrollment period. Per numbers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 643,543 more Americans have gotten health insurance from the federal marketplace thus far year-over-year.

That brings 2018 enrollment to a total of 2,781,260 people and puts it up by about 30% over 2017 when 2,137,717 people selected plans on Healthcare.gov during the first four weeks. (All numbers exclude the state-run exchanges, which, incidentally, tend to see robust signups.)

Too soon to tell what's going on

Growth has slowed, though, since Healthcare.gov opened on Nov. 1. Two weeks in, numbers were up 40% year over year.

Plus, there's a big caveat to the data: Healthcare.gov is only open until Dec. 15 this year. Last enrollment period, it was open until Jan. 31. So there's a very good chance people are simply signing up earlier (because they have to) in lieu more people signing up.

We'll have to wait until Dec. 15 to see if Obamacare manages an uptick or, at the very least, avoids a major dropoff, both of which would come as a surprise given Republicans' repeated repeal attempts and President Donald Trump's steps to undermine it.

In 2017, more than 9.2 million Americans got health insurance through Healthcare.gov. Enrollment was particularly strong during the last two weeks of December (with 2,658,210 signups) before ebbing in January. Another 3 million people got health insurance through the state-run exchanges for 2017.

Health insurance: Still important

The latest CMS numbers come out as Republicans ready yet another Obamacare repeal — this time by undoing the law's individual mandate as part of a broader tax bill.

The mandate stipulates Americans buy health insurance or face a tax penalty — 2.5% of your income above the minimum required to file a tax return or $695, whichever is greater — so overtuning it could derail marketplace traction. But here's something important that often gets lost in the political shuffle: If you don't buy health insurance, you won't have health insurance. And, given bronze plans are going for $0 in some states and many people who qualify for premium tax credits are finding cheaper plans on Healthcare.gov this year, the sudden lack of a tax penalty shouldn't dissuade you from seeking coverage.

For people who can't find affordable plans on the exchanges, there are some options, including off-exchange plans, short-term health insurance, limited benefit plans and prescription discount cards. You can learn more about these alternatives here.

Federal open enrollment closes Dec. 15, but some state-run exchanges are open through January.

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