Despite hurdles, 8.8 million people signed up for ObamaCare this fall

An ObamaCare signup flier
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the 2018 enrollment numbers for Affordable Care Act health plans on Thursday, and the number — 8.8 million people signing up for plans — surprised ObamaCare critics and proponents alike. The final number, 96 percent of 2017's 9.2. enrollments, came after a big rush in the final week, when 4.1 million people signed up for plans. Some 2.4 million people who signed up were new customers, and 1 million of them enrolled in the final week, setting a new one-week record. Among the 6.4 million returning customers, CMS said some undisclosed number were automatically re-enrolled.

Some of the 8.8 million may not pay their premiums and therefore won't get health insurance, and the 11 states that run their own insurance markets aren't included in the total. But the robust enrollment numbers came after a year in which President Trump and congressional Republicans repeatedly tried to dismantle the law, and a significantly truncated enrollment period where 90 percent of the advertising and outreach budget had been cut, as well as two-fifths of the funds for insurance "navigators" who help people sign up. Polls and on-the-ground reporting also showed that people were confused about whether ObamaCare still existed.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma — who had lobbied Congress to repeal ObamaCare over the summer — focused on the website's stability and cost savings, noting that the Trump administration spent only $1 on outreach per each enrollee versus $11 last year under former President Barack Obama. She announced the final numbers in a Thursday afternoon tweet, 24 hours later than the usual release day.

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Trump has taken other steps to erode ObamaCare markets, and the GOP tax plan Congress just passed axes the mandate that individuals have insurance, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday "takes the heart out of ObamaCare." But McConnell also shot down a push from his caucus to try to repeal the law again next year, saying with a 51-49 Senate, "we'll probably move on to other issues."

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