CMS on Thursday announced that more than 600,000 U.S. residents had signed up for federal exchange plans during the first four days of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) current open enrollment period.
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The open enrollment period for the 2018 coverage year runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15—about half as long as previous open enrollment periods.
In a break with past open enrollment periods, HHS did not project in advance how many U.S. residents would enroll in exchange coverage. S&P Global Ratings, however, projected between 10.6 million and 11.4 million U.S. residents will sign up for exchange plans during the current open enrollment period, representing a 7% to 13% decline from the 2017 open enrollment period.
The data released Thursday include sign-ups from Nov. 1 to Nov. 4—the first four days of the open enrollment period. CMS said it will update the data every week during the open enrollment period.
The data include sign-ups in the 39 states that use the federal exchange for enrollment. The data do not indicate whether individuals paid their first month's premiums, a step that effectively completes the enrollment process.
CMS said that as of Nov. 4, 601,462 U.S. residents had selected federal exchange plans. Of those individuals:
- 464,140 were returning customers; and
- 137,322 were new customers.
CMS said the federal exchange enrollment call center during that time period had received 527,046 calls, while HealthCare.gov had seen more than two million visitors.
CMS spokesperson Johnathan Monroe said, "Consistent with our aim to have a seamless open enrollment experience for consumers this year, the website performed optimally and consumers easily accessed enrollment tools to compare plans and prices during the first week."
Lori Lodes, the founder of Get America Covered and a former CMS official under former President Barack Obama's administration, said, "It's the biggest start to open enrollment ever." Lodes said, "It shows that people really want to get health insurance and value it."
Steve Ringel—president of the Ohio market for CareSource, which sells exchange plans in four states—attributed the early surge in sign-ups to recent efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. He said, "You couldn't have paid for that kind of advertising," adding, "It doesn't matter what the storyline is, it's drawing attention to the [exchanges]."
But the pace of enrollments is not surging everywhere. Jessie Menkens, the navigator program coordinator for Alaska Primary Care Association, said enrollment in Alaska's rural areas has been slower than in previous years, which Menkens says is "concerning."
Larry Levitt, SVP of special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, also cautioned that "these numbers don't necessarily tell you whether enrollment is going to end up higher or lower" (Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 11/9; AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/9; Eilperin/Goldstein, Washington Post, 11/9; Sullivan, The Hill, 11/9; Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 11/9; Pear, New York Times, 11/9; CMS fact sheet, 11/9).
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