Okla. again sets Affordable Care Act enrollment record

BY TREVOR BROWN
Oklahoma Watch
01/06/2021 09:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A syringe is about to be filled with the COVID-19 vaccine. More Oklahomans than ever before will be covered by health insurance purchased off of the Affordable Care Act exchange when new plans took effect on Jan. 1. WHITNEY BRYEN/OKLAHOMA WATCH
OKLAHOMA CITY – More Oklahomans than ever before will be covered by health insurance purchased off of the Affordable Care Act exchange when new plans took effect on Jan. 1.

Preliminary numbers released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show more than 171,100 Oklahoma residents enrolled in health plans purchased through the marketplace during the open enrollment period that ended Dec. 15.

The total is an 8% increase over the current year and will be the third straight year that the state has set a record for enrollees on the exchange. 

The spike in enrollments over the past several years come after officials worried that work would be needed to stabilize the state’s marketplace amid a time of high premiums and few options shortly after former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law took full effect in 2014.   

But, thanks in part to a record-number of insurers offering plans in Oklahoma for next year, the average monthly benchmark premiums on the federal exchange were down more than 20% from a record high in 2019. 

Oklahoma wasn’t the only place that saw more consumers buying plans, which are often heavily subsidized. 

Federal data shows that 8.2 million plans were purchased for the upcoming year in the 36 states, including Oklahoma, that use the federal exchange. (Enrollment numbers for many of the 12 state-run exchanges haven’t been counted because they have different enrollment periods.)
That is nearly the same as the 8.3 million who purchased plans for the current year even though New Jersey and Pennsylvania – two states that previously used the federal exchange – moved to state-based exchanges. 

When removing those states – as well as Nevada, which moved to state-based exchange last year – enrollment on the federal exchange is up 6.6% compared to 2020. 

In a statement from the Trump administration, health officials attributed the increase to lower premiums and more offerings across the country. 

“Annual enrollment data shows that the Trump administration’s focus on delivering more choices along with a smooth and streamlined consumer experience continues to drive strong enrollment,” said Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  “We’ve opened more pathways to enroll by taking advantage of private sector and people are clearly finding the coverage they need at this critical time.”

Others have pointed to the durability and effectiveness of the exchanges over time.

“I think what you are seeing is that consumers just really want coverage, especially subsidized coverage, if they can get it,” said Daniel McDermott, a research associate with the Kaiser Family Foundation, in an interview with Oklahoma Watch when the open enrollment period began. 

The increase in enrollment also comes as many Republicans continue trying to diminish or dismantle the controversial health-care law that was enacted nearly a decade ago. 

The efforts include an ongoing federal lawsuit, supported by President Donald Trump, that seeks to strike down the law and recent federal and state moves to expand the use of cheaper, stripped-down plans available outside of the exchange.  

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