California enrollment under Obama health law dips slightly

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Enrollment in Covered California dropped slightly this year as about 35,000 fewer people signed up for coverage through the state's insurance marketplace, officials reported Wednesday.

California enrolled 1.52 million people for 2018 coverage through former President Barack Obama's heath care law, down about 2 percent from the prior year. Of those customers, 388,000 are new enrollees, a slight uptick from last year, but fewer people renewed their plans, causing the overall decline.

Covered California sells health plans to people who don't get coverage from an employer, Medicare or Medicaid.

Nationally, nearly 11.8 million Americans signed up for coverage through Obama's health law, down about 3 percent from last year, according to a tally by The Associated Press. The national enrollment remained remarkably stable despite President Donald Trump's disdain for "Obamacare."

The enrollment follows a tumultuous year for the insurance marketplaces in California and elsewhere as Congress repeatedly tried to repeal or remake Obama's law but was ultimately unsuccessful. The Trump administration also shortened the enrollment period and reduced the marketing budget in states that allow the federal government to run their marketplace.

Covered California executive director Peter Lee says part of the decline is because some people who make too much to qualify for subsidies could get a better deal elsewhere. Amid uncertainty over whether the federal government would continue making payments to insurers that reduce out-of-pocket costs for consumers, Covered California tacked on a surcharge for some plans. For people with subsidies, the surcharge is largely covered by the federal government.

Lee said analysts are still looking at other reasons for the dip but said it's not cause for alarm. The influx of new enrollees means there are plenty of healthy people with low health care costs, which keeps premiums low for everyone who gets coverage in the individual market.

"The big issue for all of us isn't the raw number of do we have growth or decline, but are we getting healthy people in," Lee said.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Photo: Getty Images

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