Despite Trump's scorn, early 'Obamacare' sign-ups top 600k

The Healthcare.gov website is seen on a computer screen Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Washington. The government says more than 600,000 people signed up for Affordable Care Act coverage in the first week of open enrollment season, and nearly 8 in 10 of those were current customers renewing their coverage. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Associated Press

UPDATE: Obamacare signups so far this year have eclipsed last year's numbers for the first two weeks of open enrollment, new data shows.

Nearly 1.5 million people have selected Affordable Care Act health coverage plans through HealthCare.gov, showing a 47 percent increase over 2016 week one and two selections even as members of the U.S. Congress continue to make efforts to repeal parts of the federal health care law.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released new enrollment data Wednesday that showed the majority of consumers who selected plans for 2018 coverage were returning customers. About 345,719 people signed up for coverage between Nov. 1 and 11 as new Obamacare consumers, a 40 percent increase from last year. 

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More than 600,000 people selected health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act in the first week of open enrollment, according to a new federal report, showing a swift start for the federal program that has been a target for dismantling by President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican Party.

Plan selections during the first four days of open enrollment, Nov. 1 to 4, have South Jersey experts optimistic that residents who need insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will get signed up before the shortened six-week enrollment period ends Dec. 15.

“In response to the recent federal cuts to ACA funding and outreach, groups from all across the state have come together to ensure New Jerseyans have the information and resources they need to get enrolled,” Maura Collingsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, said in a statement.

Efforts in Congress to repeal Obamacare failed to pass before the open enrollment period for 2018 coverage began. The White House announced this summer it would cut the outreach and education budget for Obamacare by 90 percent, going from $100 million to $10 million.

The cuts prompted many experts to predict fewer marketplace signups this year.

More than 295,000 New Jersey residents selected Obamacare plans in 2016 during the three-month enrollment period, up nearly 6,500 plans from the previous year.

Paul Mesgleski, financial services manager at AtlantiCare, oversees enrollment services provided through the health network for Atlantic County residents.

He said enrollment counselors and call-in centers have been busy in previous years and predicted this year would be no different, but did note the number of callers and in-person enrollment appointments were not as high as the first year Obamacare was offered in New Jersey, 2013.

“It’s been a great experience seeing the changes we’ve been able to make in people’s lives,” Mesgleski said just before this year’s enrollment start. “Granted, the number of people we helped that first year is not the same, but that could be because people are re-enrolling by themselves. They are patients who’ve done this before.”

About 77 percent of the 601,462 people who selected plans at the beginning of this month were returning consumers to the Obamacare exchange, leaving nearly 23 percent of sign-ups by new consumers, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Because previous years’ enrollment data were calculated biweekly, it is unclear whether signups in week one of this year eclipsed the first week of last year. State-specific data on enrollment in 2017 was not yet available.

CoverNJ Coalition, a group made up of consumer advocates, health-care organizations, insurance companies and others, announced in October it would lead outreach events across the state to inform people about Affordable Care Act options and how to sign up for plans if they qualified.

“These organizations have made great strides in increasing health literacy, awareness and access to the information and tools needed to gain coverage,” said John J. Gantner, president and CEO of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

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Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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