Democrats Call for Extending Obamacare Enrollment Period


With Obamacare open enrollment set to end Dec. 15 and sign-ups poised to lag by as many as 1 million fewer enrollees than last year, Democratic congressional leaders are calling on the Trump administration to extend the sign-up period.

Open enrollment for the 2018 Affordable Care Act exchanges is only six weeks, from Nov. 1-Dec. 15, about half the amount of time in prior years. On top of that, major changes made by the Trump administration—such as cutting funding for outreach—are making it challenging to get as many people signed up this year as in prior years.

“This year, steps taken by the Administration have changed the coverage landscape dramatically, making it more likely that consumers are automatically re-enrolled in plans that differ from their previous year's coverage,” Senate Finance Committee ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a letter to acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

“By cutting Open Enrollment to just six weeks, HHS has left consumers with less time to shop for coverage, sign up for plans, and obtain needed financial assistance, all of which may result in substantially fewer people with coverage,” the senators said.

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) also called on the Trump administration to extend open enrollment through January 2018.

The Department of Health and Human Services says the adjusted length and timing for 2018 aligns more closely with Medicare and job-based insurance, and it noted that the Obama administration in 2016 finalized a rule setting the open enrollment period from Nov. 1-Dec. 15 for 2019 and beyond.

“Consistent with our aim to have a seamless open enrollment experience for consumers this year, the website is performing well and consumers can easily access enrollment tools to compare plans and prices,” a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson told me in an email. The federal HealthCare.gov exchange site was largely dysfunctional at launch in 2013 during the first several months of the sign-up period.

From Nov. 1 through Dec. 9, 2017, nearly 4.7 million plans were selected for 2018 coverage in the 39 states using HealthCare.gov, the HHS announced. That includes 1.4 million new consumers and 3.3 million consumers renewing coverage. About 12.2 million people signed up during open enrollment for 2017, and about 10.1 million had effectuated their coverage by paying their premiums through June 2017, the HHS said.

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