ACA sign-ups declined for 2017 as Republicans eye repeal

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(Bloomberg)— Fewer people in the U.S. signed up for Obamacare coverage for this year, according to a preliminary report, as enrollments slowed after the Trump administration vowed it would do away with the health law.

In the 39 states where Affordable Care Act sign-ups are done on the website, 9.2 million people enrolled in individual insurance plans —about 400,000 fewer than last year. States like New York and California that run their own sign-up systems are reporting their data separately. The deadline to enroll was Jan. 31.

Even before the data came out, Democrats were claiming that the Trump administration had undermined the law, partly by halting some outreach efforts. While it now runs the health program, the Trump administration called the report another sign of the law’s shortcomings, pointing to a 25% increase in premiums and a decline in insurer participation.

“Obamacare has failed the American people,” Matt Lloyd, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “We look forward to providing relief to those who are being harmed by the status quo.”

‘Hardly collapsing’
Until Trump took over in January, sign-ups had been trending higher. Then, on the day he was inaugurated, he signed an executive order declaring he’ll seek a prompt repeal of Obamacare and directing federal agencies to work to minimize the law’s burdens. There was also a partial halt to efforts to push people to sign up for coverage, though some of those efforts later resumed.

The decline in sign-ups “certainly suggests that the last-minute pulling of ads by the Trump administration could have depressed the usual surge in sign-ups as the deadline approached,” Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said by e-mail.

Obamacare is “hardly collapsing,” he said.

States with the biggest declines in sign-ups included ones where health insurers pulled out of the markets, leaving consumers with fewer choices. In Mississippi, Alaska, Georgia, Missouri and other states, insurers left the program or scaled back, while premiums climbed.

Even when states that run their own systems are included, nationwide enrollment appears likely to fall short of last year. Charles Gaba, who tracks the health law at, estimates that about 12.3 million to 12.4 million people have enrolled, down from 12.7 million for 2016.

Obamacare also expanded eligibility for Medicaid and let children stay on their parents’ health plans to age 26. Including those changes, the U.S. estimates that about 20 million people have gained insurance under the law, helping lower the uninsured rate to 8.9%.

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