Despite dire predictions and Democratic accusations of "sabotage" by the Trump administration, at least 8.8 million customers signed up for Obamacare plans by the end of the healthcare.gov open enrollment that ended last week, according to Seema Verma, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
That was down only slightly from the 9.2 million who had signed up a year ago, but final figures may end up being even higher. The latest data do not include signups that occurred in the final three hours on the west coast (which would be 12am to 3am in the east), nor those that are still ongoing as staffers work their way through a list of callers who left their information to be called back and enrolled.
This was the first open enrollment under President Trump, and Democrats and pro-Obamacare advocates accused the administration of intentionally trying to suppress enrollment law through actions from health officials in charge of carrying out the signup period. The administration cut funding for navigators that help people sign up for coverage, saying they had failed to effectively get people enrolled, and cut 90 percent of funding for advertising enrollment. It also cut the open enrollment period in half, from three months to six weeks. But there was not a significant difference in signups.
As Democrats pointed to the numbers as proof of the strength of Obamacare, CMS touted its efficiency.
CMS noted that it had switched to connecting customers with agents and brokers, rather than navigators, and that it had used digital ads and email reminders to target customers. It also said that the website worked well and had used about 21 hours of the 60 hours it had set aside for regular website maintenance.
Verma made the announcement on Twitter, and her agency put out detailed figures later in the day that showed 4,143,968 people selected plans or were automatically re-enrolled through healthcare.gov during the final week of open enrollment, which ended Dec. 15.
"Exchange open enrollment for 2018 coverage ended w/ approx 8.8M people enrolling in coverage," she wrote. "Great job to the @CMSGOV team for the work you did to make this the smoothest experience for consumers to date. We take pride in providing great customer service."
Exchange open enrollment for 2018 coverage ended w/ approx 8.8M people enrolling in coverage. Great job to the @CMSGov team for the work you did to make this the smoothest experience for consumers to date. We take pride in providing great customer service.— CMS Administrator (@SeemaCMS) December 21, 2017
The customer satisfaction rate at the Exchange call center was at an all-time high this year, averaging 90%!— CMS Administrator (@SeemaCMS) December 21, 2017
Final enrollment numbers may grow. Special enrollments that allow people to sign up after the Dec. 15 deadline for most Obamacare customers are still happening in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia, which are still undergoing hurricane recovery efforts. Other exemptions exist, including on people whose health insurers left the exchanges.
It isn't clear how many people are in this group, but they have until March 1 to buy coverage on healthcare.gov.
The Trump administration did not extend the overall deadline for signups, as had been done under the Obama administration, but did allow people to call and leave their information to receive a call back and enroll in time for coverage in time for 2018. People who were customers in 2017 but did not actively change, cancel or re-enroll in plans were automatically enrolled in the same plan or a similar plan.
Other states that have made their own exchanges have longer open enrollments, including California and New York.
Nearly 2.4 million new customers signed up for plans on healthcare.gov, and the rest were returning customers. The numbers do not indicate whether people already paid premiums for the first month, which would effectively enroll them in plans so that their coverage would begin Jan. 1, 2018.
"This year CMS took a more cost effective outreach approach, spending just over $1 per enrollee on outreach and education for exchange coverage compared to nearly $11 per enrollee last year," she tweeted.
This year CMS took a more cost effective outreach approach, spending just over $1 per enrollee on outreach and education for Exchange coverage compared to nearly $11 per enrollee last year.— CMS Administrator (@SeemaCMS) December 21, 2017