LITTLE ROCK — The number of Arkansans signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act has increased almost 9 percent over this time last year, according to officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In a conference call with reporters around the country Wednesday, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said that nationally, demand is strong for coverage under the ACA, despite its uncertain future, with threats including rising premiums, insurers dropping out of some markets, and the Republican majority in Congress determined to repeal the law in 2017.
Even so, Burwell said a significant increase in the number of enrollees has been recorded as more people across the U.S. have signed up for health insurance under the ACA through last Monday than during the same period last year. Nationally, 6.4 million people have obtained coverage by Dec. 19, while last year, the total was right at 6 million people. Last year in Arkansas, Burwell said that 37,327 people had obtained coverage as of Dec. 15, 2015. This year, the number of enrollees increased to 40,759, an additional 3,432 people.
“Doomsday predictions about the marketplace are not bearing out,” Burwell said Wednesday.
Even so, officials admitted the number of sign-ups could end up below the administration target of 13.8 million people, in part because the percentage of new customers, at 32 percent of the total, is down from 40 percent the same time last year.
Burwell said the threat of repeal has created a lot of confusion and concern, with the HHS call center receiving 30,000 calls from people asking how the potential for repeal will affect coverage. She said repeal could result in 30 million people nationally losing their insurance coverage. In Arkansas, as many as 360,000 people stand to lose coverage if Congress repeals the ACA.
“It’s important to understand that this is a product that people want,” Burwell said. “We’re hoping the conversation about the Affordable Care Act will move from rhetoric to reality, and the reality of what this means to real people across the country.” She added that, for most people, insurance coverage through the exchanges can be obtained for an average cost of $75 monthly after subsidies are applied.
The secretary gave assurances that whatever the future holds for the ACA, often referred to as “Obamacare,” everyone who obtains insurance for 2017 will be insured at least through the end of 2017.
“What you sign up for today is a contract for 2017 and we will honor that contract,” she said.
Although the deadline for enrollment for coverage beginning Jan. 1 was last Monday, Arkansans who wish to enroll have until Jan. 31, 2017, to obtain coverage early enough avoid a penalty.