Obamacare’s fifth open enrollment season just ended for the 39 states served by Healthcare.gov — and it was a major failure in terms of enrollees. Fewer than 10 million people signed up for 2018 health plans through the state and federal exchanges, according to one recent projection. That’s down from 12.2 million sign-ups in 2017.
The law’s defenders blame this 20-percent decline on the Trump administration. They say the administration has made it difficult for folks to enroll by significantly cutting Obamacare advertising budgets and shortening the enrollment period from three months to 45 days. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have even asked the administration to extend the sign-up period to January 1, a request which was just denied.
But there’s a simpler explanation for why people aren’t clamoring for exchange plans: they can’t afford them. Average premiums for mid-level silver plans sold through the federal Healthcare.gov marketplace rose 34 percent this year. Patients seeking silver plans in Iowa can expect their premiums to jump 69 percent in 2018. Georgians don’t fare much better — they face a 57 percent price hike. And Floridians will pay 45 percent more than they did this year. And deductibles are prohibitive for many enrollees.
There are also fewer plans available, so it’s much more difficult for consumers to find one that’s worth the cost. Insurers have abandoned or scaled back participation in the exchanges after years of losses. As a result, nearly 3 million customers had only one insurer to “choose” from this enrollment season.
Despite what some Democratic lawmakers want to believe, extending Obamacare’s open enrollment season wouldn’t substantially boost enrollment. And as long as Obamacare’s insurance exchanges offer a paltry selection of unaffordable plans, the slide in enrollment numbers will continue.