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Surge in Obamacare Signups Despite Rocky Enrollment Season

Open enrollment for 2018 health insurance kicked off on November 1 this year amid palpable political unrest over cost-sharing reduction payments, extreme advertising cuts and an anti-Obamacare vibe at the federal level. Despite the tension, early numbers are not only good but better than last year at the same time.

The Hill reports that on the first day of open enrollment alone, over 200,000 people signed up for coverage of the 1 million shoppers who visited HealthCare.gov. In 2017, the first day of enrollment saw half as many sign up, with 750,000 people visiting the site. These early numbers, confirmed by an administration official, suggest that Obamacare enrollment may not take as many hits as have been suggested.

Still, projections aren’t great for the 2018 enrollment season. A report from Standard and Poor’s predicts that signups this year will drop 7 to 13 percent over last year’s numbers, resulting in anywhere between 10.6 and 11.4 million enrollees. Most of these customers will be returning from last year according to S&P. Few new customers are expected, owing largely to reduced advertising and outreach, a shorter signup period, and substantially higher premiums for customers who don’t qualify for cost assistance.

Of the 200,000 people who flocked to HealthCare.gov on the first day of enrollment, many of these are likely returning to renew their coverage, not buy new plans. Early enrollment figures typically represent returning customers rather than new ones, and it appears unlikely that the influx of signups will hold steady as enrollment continues. The Trump administration’s decisions over the last several months – to end cost-sharing payments to insurers, to shorten enrollment to about six weeks, to cut advertising by 90 percent and to create uncertainty over the individual mandate to buy coverage – will likely keep millions of customers from buying health insurance this year.

But early numbers can be taken as a small win for supporters of former President Obama’s signature healthcare law, who are fearing the worst this season. Nationwide, consumers have until December 15 to sign up for health insurance for 2018.