ACA vigil

Melanie Young, left, of Mays Landing, and Lisa Campanella, of Cape May Court House, show support Feb. 15 for the Affordable Care Act outside the Mays Landing office of U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd. No health coverage carriers have exited New Jersey since last year.

NICOLE LEONARD / Staff WRITER

More New Jersey residents have signed up for Obamacare health insurance plans this year over last so far, but it is too early to tell if the final numbers will reveal a rise or drop in the state’s insured population.

The 79,212 plan selections through the Obamacare, or Affordable Care Act, marketplace by New Jersey residents in the first four weeks of open enrollment is up 21 percent from last year, federal data show, indicating people were quicker to sign up than in previous years.

Many national and local experts predicted a shortened enrollment period — only six weeks this year, compared with three months in 2016 — would lead to an overall decline in the number of people who choose health coverage on HealthCare.gov.

President Donald Trump announced in October he would cut off cost-sharing payments for insurers and 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.

Both these changes, in addition to constant turmoil in Washington, D.C., over health-care reform, made health experts worry people who needed insurance coverage through Obamacare would not get it or seek it.

Joel Cantor, founding director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, said based on the preliminary enrollment numbers, New Jersey is not on track to hit the number of people who selected plans last year.

More than 215,000 people would have to reselect new plans or become new Obamacare consumers in the next two weeks before the Dec. 15 deadline.

Although that seems like a lot of people in a short time, Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said many continuing Obamacare consumers will likely get automatically re-enrolled for coverage at the end of open enrollment.

“In New Jersey, since no carriers exited (the marketplace), there are probably more people who will be automatically re-enrolled compared to some other states where people had to pick new plans,” she said.

Hempstead said it is hard to know what the state’s insured population will look like for 2018, especially considering Obamacare’s automatic re-enrollment and the unknown number of people getting coverage in the individual market outside of the Obamacare exchange.

“I think, overall, most people think the market will be down this year ... but no one knows for sure, and I think the environment in the individual state is important,” Hempstead said. “New Jersey’s market situation is not that bad — we got a new carrier and premiums did not go up that much ... so maybe NJ won’t have as much fall-off as some other states.”

Nationally, almost 2.8 million Americans selected insurance plans Nov. 1-25, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Enrollment across the country is up about 30 percent over last year.

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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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