On Thursday, December 21, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its weekly snapshot for the last full week of enrollment, measuring signups from December 10 through December 15. During this seventh and final week, a little over 4.1 million people enrolled in or renewed their major medical coverage for 2018. These numbers represent customers using HealthCare.gov, which is the federal exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.
Enrollment ended on a low note nationwide, not accounting for the unreported numbers of customers who were unable to complete enrollment due to technical difficulties. Collectively, total enrollment for Obamacare’s fifth signup season hit just over 8.8 million people. Of those, nearly 2.4 million customers were new to the marketplace this year while 6.4 were returning from last year. That means that new customers accounted for just 27 percent of the federal exchange base for 2018.
The last week is on par with enrollment during the same period in 2015 and nearly double the signup rate for 2016. In each of these years, however, enrollment lasted through the end of January. A surge typically occurs near December 15 since this was, historically, the last date to sign up for effective coverage on January 1. In 2015, nearly 4.1 million people bought health insurance using HealthCare.gov during the seventh week of enrollment while just 2.3 million people enrolled in 2016 from December 11 through December 19, a similar time frame.
The CMS will release an updated snapshot next week that includes figures from customers who completed their applications by 3 a.m. EST on December 16 and those who struggled with technical problems in the final hours of open enrollment.
Touting a smooth enrollment season this year, the CMS reported that the fifth signup period for health insurance under Obamacare has been the best in terms of customer experience and cost efficiency. A separate news release highlights the impact of cutting the enrollment marketing budget this year. The Trump administration cut advertising down to $10 million, a 90 percent cut that many feared would contribute to lower enrollment totals this year.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma instead praised the administration’s efforts to make this signup period more cost-efficient and more user-friendly, noting that customers appear to agree based on data collected from the HealthCare.gov call centers. Consumer satisfaction with the enrollment process averaged around 90 percent compared to 85 percent last year.
Based on the number of people who signed up, advertising for the 2018 open enrollment period averaged to about $1 per enrollee. Last year, the government spent approximately $11 per enrollee. Total enrollment during last year’s signup period reached about 9.4 million. This year’s tally saw 600,00 fewer people but in half the normal time. The CMS is only releasing figures for the federal exchange site and will update total enrollment figures to include state-based exchanges in its final report in March.
Residents of Maryland, Idaho, Connecticut and Vermont have until today, December 22, to pick a health plan for 2018. Some states with state-based exchanges have also extended their deadlines, some into the end of January. Open enrollment ended nationwide on December 15.