On Wednesday, CMS released the near final weekly snapshot of enrollment numbers for the 39 HealthCare.gov states, including Illinois. This figure shows 8.5 million people enrolled in coverage during the latest six-week open enrollment period, a drop of 368,000 Americans. Illinois enrolled 314,777 individuals, a 7% drop in enrollees, and will have about 25,000 fewer Illinoisans covered this year through the Marketplace.
While the decrease is much smaller than what we feared, the data is still troubling: the number of new enrollees decreased significantly, indicating that those who rely more on proactive outreach and advertising to educate them about the Marketplace did not receive it this year. The Trump Administration could have chosen to bolster coverage for Americans by robustly supporting advertising, outreach and enrollment to properly reach and educate consumers. Instead, the Administration cut advertising by 90% and cut local help via Navigators by more than 80%. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, only one in four who buy their own insurance or are uninsured knew about the December 15th deadline. This is a clear sign that new consumers, most likely young adults, did not know about the open enrollment period due to the administration’s cuts in outreach and enrollment.
In addition to this lack of support for outreach and enrollment, the wide confusion caused by efforts from the administration and congressional Republicans to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also bear an impact including the zero-ing out of the individual mandate penalty, the proliferation of short-term limited duration health insurance plans, and the fear instilled in the immigrant community about the public charge issue. The latest attack – the U.S. district court ruling on Texas vs. Azar- was released on the eve of the end of open enrollment for the majority of states in the US, including Illinois. The Supreme Court has upheld the ACA twice and this lower court decision doesn’t change that — yet it is another partisan attempt that fails to improve the health care system or lower costs for anyone.
Despite counterproductive actions by the Trump Administration, families from across the nation signed up for coverage. “The recent Marketplace enrollment numbers show that over 300,000 people in Illinois want and are seeking out affordable, comprehensive health insurance despite all of the congressional and administrative efforts to kill the ACA,” said Stephani Becker, Protect Our Care Illinois Steering Committee member and Associate Director of Healthcare Justice for the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. As the November midterm election results showed, Americans are not willing to return to a time where income or pre-existing conditions might be a death sentence, especially in light of nonstop politically motivated attacks from the administration.
We are hopeful that under a new Governor in Illinois we can work on strengthening the Illinois Marketplace and focus on instituting state-based consumer protections so that we can reverse the trend of decreasing enrollment caused by the Trump administration’s efforts to sabotage the ACA.