Obamacare enrollment ends today despite judge striking down law

Yes, you can still sign up for Obamacare on Saturday.Nothing has changed even though a federal judge ...

Posted: Dec 16, 2018 8:10 PM
Updated: Dec 16, 2018 8:10 PM

Yes, you can still sign up for Obamacare on Saturday.

Nothing has changed even though a federal judge in Texas ruled Friday that the Affordable Care Act's individual coverage mandate is unconstitutional and invalidated the entire law. The decision came on the eve of the end of open enrollment for 2019 coverage on Saturday.

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"The law is still in effect," said Tim Jost, emeritus professor, Washington and Lee University School of Law. But, he added of the ruling, "everyone will be confused about what it means."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs Obamacare, sent an email to insurance agents and brokers saying open enrollment will continue. The agency's administrator, Seema Verma, tweeted late Friday that the decision will have no impact on coverage.

The judge's ruling is only the latest challenge facing Obamacare this enrollment season.

Though Americans have been rushing to sign up before the deadline, the last-minute uptick may not be enough to overcome a noticeable drop in interest. The decline comes as the Trump administration has curtailed advertising and promoted alternative coverage options.

Open enrollment ends at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday in most of the country, including the 39 states that use the federal exchange, healthcare.gov. A few states that run their own exchanges, such as New York, California and Minnesota, have deadlines as late as January 31.

Some 4.1 million people have already selected plans for 2019. However, the average number of people signing up per day is down more than 9% from the same period a year ago as of December 8, according to the most recent federal figures.

The decline is particularly steep among those signing up for coverage for the first time. Their numbers are down nearly 18%, while returning customers have dropped less than 6%.

Sign-ups will likely come in 800,000 lower than last year, according to an estimate by Get America Covered, an enrollment advocacy group founded by former Obama administration officials.

Interest picked up this week, which typically happens at the end of open enrollment. Traffic was surging on the site Saturday, according to Get America Covered.

In Florida, residents are "bombarding" the few remaining navigators, who assist with enrollment, said Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families at the University of South Florida, the only organization to receive a federal navigator grant in the Sunshine State this year.

The navigators are almost fully booked through Saturday. That's in part because they have far fewer resources this year. Ray has seen her budget cut from $5.8 million in 2016 to $1.25 million this year. There are only 59 navigators working in half of Florida's counties, instead of the typical staffing of 150-plus people who cover the entire state. Residents in the remaining counties can only get assistance by phone or online.

"We're trying very hard not to turn people away," said Ray, adding many consumers need some guidance in picking a plan. "When they can sit and look at different plans and ask questions, it increases their confidence level in making an actual choice."

The dearth of assistance is among the reasons why experts think sign-ups are lagging, despite the fact that many consumers are seeing lower premiums and more choices of insurers for next year.

Another factor: The Trump administration has made it easier to buy cheaper alternatives, particularly short-term plans. Also, Americans will no longer be hit with a penalty for not having insurance. Plus, the economy is doing better so more folks may have coverage at their jobs.

However, the biggest problem may be a lack of awareness of the deadline, said Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Obama administration. The Trump administration cut the enrollment period in half and slashed the advertising budget by 90%. But state-based exchanges have kept up their marketing campaigns and outreach, and their enrollment is up in most places, he said.

Former President Barack Obama and celebrities, including Stephen Colbert, have taken on the marketing mantle, posting about open enrollment on social media.

In Florida, which uses the federal exchange, many people will likely miss the deadline, Ray said. The federal government used to air television commercials during open enrollment before President Donald Trump took office. And Ray had enough funding for television and radio spots, too. Those are all gone now, she said. Sign-ups are down about 22,500, or 2.2%.

Only a quarter of those who buy their own insurance or are uninsured know when open enrollment ends, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

"The reduced advertising makes a tremendous difference," said Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives at Families USA, a health care advocacy group.

Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Axios on Wednesday that "we don't know" why open enrollment is lagging this year but said it's important to wait until after those who are automatically re-enrolled next week are counted.

"It's going to be very important to close the books on open enrollment and see where that stands," Azar said at the Axios event.

Current Obamacare enrollees who don't pick a plan for next year will automatically be placed in the same policy on December 16. This means that they will not be able to switch because open enrollment will be over. Last year, 2.9 million people were automatically re-enrolled.

More people may be tempted to roll over into the same plan because their insurer may have said their plan's premium won't go up much next year. But this could prove costly, especially if they are among the 85% of enrollees who receive federal premium subsidies, said Cynthia Cox, director, health reform and private insurance at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

These subsidies are based on income and on the cost of the benchmark silver plan in their area. Both of those can change year-to-year so some enrollees may wind up paying more than they expect if they don't actively re-enroll through healthcare.gov.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 343505

Reported Deaths: 7543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23932444
DeSoto23229283
Harrison20527329
Rankin15411291
Jackson15232252
Madison10959227
Lee10719179
Jones9047169
Forrest8723159
Lauderdale7884244
Lowndes7054151
Lamar702989
Lafayette6548124
Washington5595139
Pearl River5196152
Bolivar4954134
Oktibbeha494398
Panola4771112
Warren4728128
Marshall4701106
Pontotoc447773
Union433279
Monroe4330137
Neshoba4281181
Hancock428088
Lincoln4176116
Pike3667113
Leflore3627125
Tate353388
Alcorn350974
Sunflower347694
Scott341176
Adams340988
Yazoo339376
Copiah324968
Simpson322891
Itawamba314680
Coahoma314085
Tippah306568
Prentiss298863
Covington293484
Leake285475
Marion284181
Wayne277543
George272251
Grenada269488
Newton262364
Tishomingo239770
Winston236784
Jasper230648
Stone229637
Attala226373
Chickasaw219060
Holmes200174
Clay197654
Clarke186880
Tallahatchie183742
Calhoun181332
Smith179235
Yalobusha171540
Walthall145748
Lawrence142826
Greene140134
Amite137543
Noxubee135235
Perry133538
Montgomery133044
Carroll126431
Webster121232
Jefferson Davis116734
Tunica114227
Benton106725
Claiborne105331
Kemper102429
Humphreys100133
Franklin87923
Quitman84719
Choctaw82619
Wilkinson78032
Jefferson71328
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 587405

Reported Deaths: 11536
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson853851591
Mobile48932864
Madison37517533
Shelby27280257
Tuscaloosa27171465
Montgomery26172627
Baldwin25399329
Lee17224181
Calhoun15401334
Morgan15170291
Etowah14954370
Marshall13116235
Houston12077293
Elmore10915219
St. Clair10763252
Limestone10725158
Cullman10546205
Lauderdale10255254
DeKalb9508192
Talladega8949188
Walker7793288
Autauga7563114
Jackson7400117
Blount7362139
Colbert6703142
Coffee6365132
Dale5650117
Russell480243
Chilton4771117
Covington4749125
Franklin458181
Tallapoosa4519156
Escambia441383
Chambers3949125
Dallas3743163
Clarke371263
Marion3463107
Pike332579
Lawrence3263100
Winston298773
Bibb290465
Geneva283983
Marengo262467
Barbour250961
Pickens245562
Butler240872
Hale235578
Fayette227065
Henry213945
Monroe202141
Randolph201144
Cherokee199248
Washington185239
Macon170552
Crenshaw168358
Clay166259
Cleburne161345
Lamar151038
Lowndes145455
Wilcox132331
Bullock126542
Conecuh121332
Coosa118329
Perry110528
Sumter110333
Greene99137
Choctaw64425
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The heat wave that controlled our area over the past several days is now behind us. The forecast for the next week looks a bit cooler & less humid.
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