The Trump administration may break with former President Barack Obama and not establish an enrollment target for Obamacare for next year.
An administration official refused to offer a target for 2018 signups Wednesday, saying too many factors could affect how to set that target, chief among them high prices for Obamacare next year.
"It is hard to say that we can get to this target or that target because there are so many things going on in the market," said the official, speaking on background. "The bottom line is the prices continue to go up."
Last year, the Obama administration set an ambitious goal of signing up 13.8 million people by the end of open enrollment in January. About 12.2 million people signed up, and about 10 million paid their premiums as of June.
Insurers in some parts of the country are proposing double-digit rate hikes for 2018. However, the Trump administration has played a part in the proposed rate hikes by not committing to paying insurer subsidies called cost-sharing reduction payments that are used to cover out-of-pocket costs for low-income Obamacare customers.
An estimate from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that premiums on Obamacare's exchanges could rise an additional 19 percent if the payments are not made next year.
While the Trump administration has been making the payments every month, insurers have been pleading to know if they will be made next year. The Trump administration has not made a decision, and Trump has hinted after Congress failed to repeal Obamacare in July that he could let the law implode.
The administration official noted that insurers would charge high premiums even without the cost-sharing payments.
"CSRs have been paid for the past three years since the program started, and what have we seen in terms of premiums?" the official said. "Even though you had CSR payments, premiums have gone up over 100 percent since it started."
They also noted that people who receive the subsidies would continue to get them to reduce their co-pays or deductibles even if the payments aren't made.
Insurers are required to lower the out-of-pocket costs for eligible customers. But if they do not get the payments, insurers will raise rates to recoup the cost of the cost-sharing reductions.
The official noted that there are a "lot of factors" for the double-digit rate increases.
"I think that has to do with the underlying structure of the program," they said.
The official declined to comment when asked why the administration is continuing the payments month to month, citing a lawsuit filed in 2014 against the Obama White House over the legality of the payments.
The comments come as Democrats and some advocacy groups are criticizing the Trump administration over planned Obamacare outreach. Last year, the administration cut some ad funding at the end of open enrollment, and the official refused to say whether they would be funding online ads for next year.
While the official did not detail how much the administration plans to spend money on outreach, a major goal of the Trump administration is to improve the signup experience for open enrollment.
Open enrollment is scheduled to start on Nov. 1 and run until Dec. 15, which is about six weeks shorter than 2017's open enrollment.