Close to a half-million Georgians have been enrolled for coverage for the 2017 health insurance exchange through Dec. 31.
The 482,445 enrollment number, though, falls short of last year’s pace, when 511,826 Georgians had been signed up for coverage by Dec. 26.
Until Wednesday’s figures were announced, Georgia’s enrollment for this year’s exchange had been running ahead of where it was a year ago.
The sign-up announcement came as Republicans on Wednesday moved toward repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which created the insurance exchanges in states. For the first time in a decade, the GOP this year will control the White House as well as both houses of Congress. The party has made a priority of rolling back the ACA, which was passed in 2010.
Nationally, 8.8 million Americans have signed up for coverage through HealthCare.gov since Open Enrollment began Nov. 1, federal health officials said Wednesday. That was higher than the 8.6 million plan selections at this time a year ago.
“It is clear that Americans want and need this vital coverage,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a statement. “As we enter the New Year, Americans who are still uninsured should sign up by January 15 to have coverage starting February 1.”
The new figures are the first to include people automatically re-enrolled in coverage, providing the most accurate picture to date of sign-ups.
With the new session of Congress already at work and Republican Donald Trump roughly two weeks away from taking the oath as president, the battle over repealing the ACA heated up Wednesday in Washington.
Republican Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with Republicans to discuss strategy for repealing it, and said the program has imposed hardship on Americans. “We’re going to keep our promise to the American people — we’re going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with solutions that lower the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government.”
President Obama, a Democrat, met with his party’s lawmakers Wednesday about strategies to defend the health care law after he leaves office.
Politics can complicate policy
Insure Georgia, an organization that provides “navigators,” or counselors, to people seeking coverage, said Thursday that enrollment statewide has been fairly steady.
“It feels like what we’ve done in years past,” said Melissa Camp of Insure Georgia.
One thing that has changed, she said, is the number of consumer questions about the future of the ACA.
“They don’t know what’s going to happen with the new [Trump] administration. There’s some unease, particularly with people with pre-existing conditions who are afraid of losing their coverage,” Camp said. (The ACA prohibits health insurers from basing price decisions on a person’s health status.)
Camp said enrollment is stronger in Augusta than in past years. There’s more opposition to the ACA in rural areas of Georgia, she added. Many rural Georgians also have lower incomes and don’t qualify for subsidies in the insurance exchange, Camp said.
Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, told GHN recently that the steady exchange enrollment “makes immediate repeal that much more difficult,’’ because it would mean that millions might potentially lose coverage.
The ACA’s increased penalty for not having coverage may be having an impact on boosting enrollment. For 2017, people who are not exempted from the penalty must pay $695 or 2.5 percent of adjusted gross income – whichever is higher.
Georgia is among 39 states that let the federal government operate their insurance exchanges.
Once again, Georgia’s enrollment total for 2017 coverage exceeds that of all other states with federally run exchanges except for Florida, Texas and North Carolina. (For perspective, Florida and Texas have far greater overall populations than Georgia, while North Carolina and Georgia are roughly comparable.)
The HHS figures show that 75 percent of the state’s exchange enrollees are in metro Atlanta. The Atlanta total is higher than for any metro area studied except Miami/Fort Lauderdale, according to the federal report. Open enrollment for 2017 continues through Jan. 31.