Oregon Sets New Obamacare Record, Despite Shorter Enrollment Period

People whose health insurance plan stopped being offered last week will have until March 1 to pick a new one. These are health plans that were sold in 2017 but not 2018.

Oregon exceeded expectations in its open enrollment period for 2018 individual health plans sold on healthcare.gov -- cresting above 156,000 plans, a slight increase over a year ago and higher than all previous years since Obamacare took effect in 2014.

Oregon’s marketplace saw better enrollment figures than the nation as a whole, which saw enrollments fall slightly from 9.2 million to 8.7 million. The national results were still good enough for supporters of the Affordable Care Act to celebrate, as the Trump administration has moved to undercut the healthcare law.

The 8.7 million marketplace enrollments announced last week do not include the 11 states that use their own state-based health enrollment websites. Open-enrollment in most of those states is still under way -- Washington’s market is opened until Jan. 15 and California’s until Jan. 31.

Because of a shortened healthcare.gov enrollment period from three months to six weeks, Chiqui Flowers, the administrator of the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace, told state legislators in November that she anticipated the number of people enrolled through the marketplace would fall from about 130,000 to 100,000.

About 155,000 Oregonians signed up in the 2016-2017 open enrollment period for 2017 health plans, but about 15 percent of those consumers dropped the coverage without paying their premiums.

“We do expect the effectuation number for 2018 to be lower than the plan-selection number for 2018’s open enrollment. That is typical each year,” said state marketplace spokeswoman Elizabeth Cronen. “We do not have a prediction for what the effectuation number will be.”

The final Oregon totals were higher than modestly larger states Kentucky and Louisiana while lagging smaller Utah, which did not expand Medicaid, forcing people onto the insurance exchange there who would be eligible for the Oregon Health Plan here.

The surge in signups defies other drags on the insurance market as well, including a 6 to 9 percent increase in premium prices for unsubsidized health plans and threats to the individual mandate, the tax penalty for noncoverage that was repealed after open enrollment ended.

That repeal means that consumers who go without coverage in 2019 will not be hit with the fine in April 2020. But they'll still be on the hook for coverage this year or face a 2.5% tax in April 2019.

Before the latest open enrollment period began on Nov. 1, the state’s health marketplace gave out grants to 31 insurance brokers and six community non-profits to help them assist people with insurance in person.

The state also counteracted lagging publicity from the federal government with billboards, broadcast media commercials and web ads directing people to healthcare.gov.

Meanwhile, anyone who’s 2017 plan was discontinued for 2018 can still pick a plan until March 1, even with the window now closed for most. Most of these people would have been automatically switched to another plan if they did not actively shop for a new one during open enrollment, but they will still be able to switch to a different one.

For example, consumers who were insured through local health insurance company ATRIO Health Plans -- which stopped offering any individual health insurance coverage in 2018— can still change plans. Providence Health Plan also revamped its plans into an exclusive provider organization, limiting its network of available  doctors and hospitals. Consumers who do not want their new Providence plan may also switch.

Eligible individuals will be able to enroll directly through a health insurance carrier or through healthcare.gov, but per usual, they will only be able to receive discounted coverage if they enroll through the federal website.

Reach Chris Gray at chris@thelundreport.org.

Correction: The individual mandate will disappear after 2018, but taxpayers could still face a tax penalty in April 2019 on their 2018 taxes.

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