Utahns are signing up in droves for health insurance under Obamacare during the latest enrollment period, despite slashed federal advertising, reduced spending on navigators to explain the program and a general uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under President Donald Trump.
Through 26 days of open enrollment for 2018, nearly 63,000 state residents had enrolled in coverage on healthcare.gov, either with Intermountain Healthcare SelectHealth, or University of Utah Health Plans, the two remaining ACA plan providers in Utah. That’s 35 percent more people than signed up last year over the initial four weeks.
A similar trend is underway around the country, where nearly 2.8 million people so far have signed up for ACA coverage plans for 2018, according to the most recent figures released Nov. 29 by the Trump administration.
“It has just been solid appointments,” said Stacy Stanford, a policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project.The West Valley City-based advocacy group helps people sign up for insurance.
“The office has been packed from when we open to after we close at night,” Stanford said.
The upswing in enrollment numbers comes after Congress twice tried to kill Obamacare earlier this year. Trump also has kept up his verbal attacks on the law and issued several rule changes meant to damage it. The Republican efforts have collectively caused rates under the program to rise dramatically in Utah and elsewhere, leading some to worry enrollment figures might plummet.
But interest in coverage still appears high. Utah’s SelectHealth has been receiving about 500 calls per day, from current SelectHealth customers seeking to re-enroll and others shopping for new plans, said company spokeswoman Jamee Wright. SelectHealth last year had the most Obamacare enrollees in Utah, at about 100,000.
“With two weeks left in open enrollment, we’re very encouraged by our call volume,” Wright said last week.
University of Utah Health Plans is also “where we thought we would be” after the first month of enrollment, said CEO Chad Westover. The U. plan has signed up about 14,000 people for coverage so far, and officials expected the final two weeks of open enrollment to push those figures even higher.
“Health insurance has been in the media, in the spotlight, in the national dialogue,” Westover said. “Just being in the general conversation, it tends to get people to be aware of the issues.”
Still, dramatic changes to the program under Trump may still ultimately decrease the total number of sign-ups compared to past years. The enrollment period, which ends Dec. 15, is half as long as it has been in past years. And there is one fewer insurance company for Utah shoppers to pick from: Molina Healthcare announced earlier this year it was pulling out as a Utah provider, pointing to financial losses as Trump’s election cast uncertainty over the law’s future.
The state will need a burst of sign-ups until Dec. 15 to match the approximately 172,000 people covered under Obamacare this year.
“Time is running out,” Stanford said.
More information: Insurance agents and brokers in your area can be found at healthcare.gov or on the Utah Insurance Department website. In addition, Take Care Utah is a statewide nonprofit network of insurance specialists who offer free help to Utahns searching for coverage. Go to takecareutah.org or call 2-1-1.
Correction: Stacy Stanford is a policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project. Her name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.