Insure Georgia is a nonprofit “navigator” organization set up to help people who want to enroll in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The government cut deeply into Insure Georgia’s funding last year, but it made do with private donations and capitalized on news coverage. (PHOTO by Audra Melton/The New York Times)

Final count: 2018 Georgia Obamacare enrollment dip less than expected

The Trump administration on Tuesday released its final report on Obamacare health insurance enrollment for this year. With all the details in, Georgia’s market enrolled more plans than expected.

In spite of several obstacles, 480,912 people enrolled in plans on Georgia’s marketplace exchange under the Affordable Care Act for 2018. That’s just shy of the 493,880 who enrolled for 2017 — a 2.6 percent decline, a smaller slide than the national average. Nationally, enrollment fell 3.8 percent.

Experts had expected enrollment in the exchange to tumble. The administration cut the enrollment period in half compared with the previous year, ending it at six weeks. It cut deeply into funding for advertising and outreach. And President Donald Trump publicly cast doubt on the future of the system, to the point where some people actually thought it no longer existed.

Experts now say those actions had a counter-effect, prompting waves of news stories that raised awareness about the insurance enrollment period.

Another thing that helped was automatic re-enrollment for people who had 2017 plans. Those enrollments were up 31 percent in Georgia.

Something that had a different impact than expected was the administration’s last-minute decision to cancel certain premium subsidies. Subsidies were changed in a way that inadvertently made lower-income consumers’ premiums cheaper. But they weren’t enough of a factor to draw a higher number of new signups: New signups in Georgia fell 16 percent for 2018. And the same change in subsidies made premiums for middle-income and upper-income customers, some of whom do enroll on the exchange, far more expensive than last year — not an attractive development for consumers.

Tuesday’s report was issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS.

The CMS administrator, Seema Verma, credited this year’s enrollment system with providing good customer service. In releasing the report, she said it showed the administration had been cost-effective, “spending less on outreach and advertising while enrollment stayed essentially the same.”

Georgia had advantages over some states. Those included a large, media-rich metro area and a two-week extension of the open enrollment period resulting from Hurricane Irma. Although CMS released little information about the extension and provided incorrect information on its website, news organizations and enrollment navigators publicized it.

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