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The Obamacare deadline to sign up for insurance is Friday. Here’s what you need to know

There's just one day left to enroll in health insurance under the federal marketplace for 2018. While demand has been higher this year, the length of the signup period is just half of what it was in previous years, so enrollment overall seems certain to be far lower. Judy Woodruff learns more from Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News about what consumers should know.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The deadline for buying health insurance in the federal marketplace for the coming year is tomorrow — just one day away. The demand during each week of enrollment has been higher this year, including last week, where there were signs of a surge.

    But the length of the enrollment period is just half of what it was in previous years. So, enrollment seems certain to end up quite far behind. Four-point-seven million people have signed up so far this year, compared to 9 million-plus who had enrolled by the end of last year’s longer enrollment period.

    Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News has more and joins me now.

    Welcome back, Mary Agnes.

    So, the pace has been picking up, is that right?

  • Mary Agnes Carey:

    Absolutely, it has been. It’s ahead of last year, new enrollment, for example, is up about 17 percent. Overall enrollment, about 650,000 people more than last year.

    But we have to remember, your point about the open enrollment period is a lot shorter. It used to go to January 31st for everyone. Now, for the 39 states that are served by the federal marketplace, that deadline, as you know, is tomorrow.  So, that is really a big difference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Cut way back. And you were telling me, that’s not the only factor out there that is going to be an incentive for fewer enrollments this year.

  • Mary Agnes Carey:

    Right. When you look at this year, things were very different. The federal government spent 90 percent less on enrollment and outreach. They are doing some outreach now on text and email to get people to come back to the marketplace. The on-the-ground assistance, the navigators, the assisters, that was cut by 40 percent. The insurers have been out there advertising to try to counteract that, but that has been a bit of an issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You were also saying some of this may be countered by automatic and re-enrollment, which is going to happen once this ends.

  • Mary Agnes Carey:

    Right. A very important thing for people to know is if you’re currently enrolled in the Affordable Care Act, and you’re on the federal exchange and you don’t act before tomorrow, you will be automatically re-enrolled, either in your current plan or in another plan.

    Either one of those might not be something that you want to be enrolled in. You should get online. If you qualify for assistance, what’s your subsidy? Can you get a better deal? Can you get a better plan?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, just to remind people what the federal government was doing under the Obama administration to remind people about this was just much more out there, wasn’t it, than what’s happening now?

  • Mary Agnes Carey:

    Right. You had cabinet secretaries out talking about this.  You had President Obama out doing all sorts of videos and outreach. That has really changed.

    Part of the reason for the Trump administration has thought, you know, it’s the fifth enrollment year. People know what the enrollment is, what this plan is. They feel that email and texts are more effective outreach, but that has been part of the thinking.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Mary Agnes, this tax bill working its way through Congress. We know in the final hours and days, part of that bill is rolling back the individual mandate in Obamacare, requiring individuals to have health insurance.

    How is that seen as affecting this sign-up?

  • Mary Agnes Carey:

    Well, some people are confused. Some people wonder if the law still exists. They wonder if the individual mandate still exists. But an important thing to think about is if the individual mandate were to be rolled back, the Congressional Budget Office has said that could increase premiums by 10 percent more over the next decade. Thirteen million more people may be uninsured, and it may mean the people who enroll are the sicker people that absolutely need coverage.

    And if you have sicker people in your risk pool and not healthy folks to balance them out, prices will go up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to think about as we watch that clock winding down to the last day.

    Mary Agnes Carey, thank you.

  • Mary Agnes Carey:

    Thank you.

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