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Despite Trump, Obamacare records strong enrollment

by Benjy Sarlin /

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WASHINGTON — About 11.8 million people signed up for an insurance plan through Obamacare in the 2018 enrollment period, according to a new report, a small 3.7 percent drop from the 12.2 million who enrolled in 2017.

The new data was released Wednesday by the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy, which researches health care issues.

"For the first time we now have the full national picture of how the individual marketplaces did this year, and it is a picture of remarkable stability," Trish Riley, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

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The final figures include both customers who signed up through the federal exchange, which covers 34 states and ended enrollment on Dec. 15 with about 8.7 million sign-ups, and the remaining state-based marketplaces, some of which had longer enrollment periods. Among the state-based exchanges, enrollment was up slightly compared to last year while it declined 5.3 percent on the federal exchange.

"Despite all the uncertainty and challenges we have seen, particularly for consumers living in states supported by state-based marketplaces, we see millions of Americans continuing to benefit from the coverage they get in the individual market," Riley said.

Obamacare supporters have been heartened by the enrollment figures over the last several months after some predicted the Trump administration's decision to cut the open enrollment period in half and reduce its advertising budget by 90 percent would create a more significant dropoff.

The law still faces an uncertain future, however. While Republicans have backed away from efforts to fully repeal and replace it, the recently enacted tax law will eliminate its requirement that people maintain insurance or pay a penalty. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects the change to reduce the number of insured by 13 million over a decade and raise premiums by 10 percent annually.

Additional moves by the Trump administration could expand access to cheaper and less generous plans off of Obamacare's exchange, but raise premiums further on the comprehensive plans offered through the law's marketplace.

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