Obamacare Open Enrollment to End for Most States Dec. 15; Covered California Deadline Extended

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Open enrollment for Obamacare for 2018 ends at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 15 for residents in the 39 states that use the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, while Covered California extended its deadline to Jan. 31.

Ana Oliva, left, and Felix Portillo of Los Angeles learn more about Covered California enrollment from Valeria Lopez at a March 2014 event. (Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

More people have signed up for policies than at this time a year ago, but Obamacare supporters fear that many potential enrollees may not realize that the Trump administration cut the sign-up season in half. In fact, 56 percent of those consumers shopping online for health insurance at eHealth said they are unaware that open enrollment ends Friday, the insurance marketplace said this week.

There is an exception: Those who live in areas affected by hurricanes — such as Florida — can qualify for a special enrollment period, which will give them until the end of the year to sign up.

In California, open enrollment for health coverage in 2018 will end Jan. 31, 2018.

“If you want your coverage to start on Jan. 1, 2018 you must select a plan by the end of Friday, Dec. 22,” Covered California’s website said Friday.

Other states that run their own exchanges may have more time to sign up as well. New York, for instance, has also extended enrollment through Jan. 31. Some 3 million people signed up for 2017 policies in state-based exchanges last year.

The federal exchange has been sending emails daily to some consumers warning them of the looming deadline. But the Trump administration ended television advertising, which advocates say was the most effective way to get people to enroll in time.

Some 4.7 million Americans selected policies on healthcare.gov through Dec. 9, according to federal data. That’s about 650,000 more sign-ups than at a similar point last year, according to Get America Covered, an advocacy group aimed at promoting open enrollment.

A flood of procrastinators is expected to pick plans this week. Visits to healthcare.gov soared on Thursday, hitting its highest point at midnight, Get America Covered said. And on Friday morning, people calling for help had to wait 30 minutes for a representative.

“The surge is real,” said Lori Lodes, the group’s co-founder and a former Obama administration official.

In prior years, consumers who started the enrollment process before Dec. 15 — the deadline to get coverage at the start of the new year — were given a little more time to complete their applications. The Trump administration announced late Friday that it will do the same this year.

Even with the last-minute rush, it’s unlikely that total enrollment will match last year’s figure of 9.2 million.

States have reported brisk activity in recent days. Maryland extended its deadline to accommodate the crowds.

“While enrollments have been very strong so far this year, we want to ensure that everyone in Maryland in need of 2018 health coverage has additional time to shop and enroll,” said Howard Haft, interim executive director for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which extended open enrollment to Dec. 22.

Many of those signing up for coverage are new to Obamacare.

More than 182,000 new consumers have signed up for coverage in California, as of December 13. That’s about 17 percent more than last year. Some 40,000 Washington residents picked plans for the first time, an increase of 47 percent from a year ago.

On the federal exchange, the number of new consumers is up about 14 percent from last year to just under 1.4 million.

Current Obamacare enrollees who want to remain on the individual market should go to healthcare.gov to view their options and actively select a plan. If they don’t, they will be automatically re-enrolled in their same policy. In previous years, this happened well before open enrollment ended so people could select another policy. But this year, they will not be able to switch plans since the enrollment season will have already ended.

Some 2.2 million people were automatically re-enrolled through healthcare.gov last year.

Those who shop around may find they can snag much cheaper plans. Premiums have soared for 2018, but so have federal subsidies.

A 40-year-old earning $25,000 will pay 75 percent less, on average, for the cheapest bronze plan and 21 percent less for the lowest-cost gold plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. A 40-year-old earning $40,000 will see a 28 percent drop, on average, in the price of the cheapest bronze plan, and an 8 percent decrease in the least expensive gold plan’s premium.

Some 80 percent of enrollees will be able to find a policy for $75 a month or less — up from 71 percent this year and the highest share so far, according to federal data.

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