First enrollment dip for Covered Cal

Covered California finished the open enrollment period for 2018 with an increase in new customers but a dip in renewals.

Obamacare in California logo - health exchangeOverall, 1.52 million residents signed up for health insurance via the state Obamacare operation. That’s down from 1.55 million — or about 35,000 fewer people than last year.

Covered California said 432,484 of the total for 2018 are new enrollees, an increase of roughly 3 percent. Many were younger, pleased officials said.

Across the nation, an estimated 11.8 million signed up for coverage via the Affordable Care Act, representing a 3 percent drop from 2017. The decrease comes as the Trump administration slashed advertising and received widespread publicity for deleting the tax penalty for not having coverage (the “individual mandate”, starting in 2019).

Covered California chief Peter Lee said many of the new enrollees were younger. “The biggest issue of all isn’t a big number of growth or decline,” he told reporters. “It’s are we getting healthy people in.”

The operation’s first drop in enrollment was due in part to customers not eligible for subsidies buying their coverage elsewhere, Covered California suggested. The migration was encouraged by a Covered California surcharge applied to midrange plans in 2018. Covered California found itself encouraging unsubsidized “silver plan” enrollees to shop off-exchange, where the surcharge wasn’t in effect.

“It’s clear that some of the decrease in our renewals was due to consumers moving off-exchange to get coverage,” Lee said. “This fact underscores that our reports only tell part of the story of the individual market in California.”

Silver remained the top-selling plan for those with subsidies, but bronze and gold both saw strong increases.

“We saw a ‘gold rush’ of smart shopping in 2018, with consumers buying a richer benefit with their increased subsidy dollars,” Lee said.

Covered California said more than 50,000 people selected health insurance plans in the final three days of open enrollment. California’s open enrollment officially ended Jan. 31. In many states, the deadline was Dec. 15, but California decided to extend the period.

Covered California said “rate increases in California in 2019 are likely to be steep but on the ‘low end’ of the range for states nationally.”

Since 2014, more than 3.4 million people have purchased health insurance through Covered California.

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