With North Carolina’s 2018 enrollment numbers in the Affordable Care Act way behind this year’s, Gov. Roy Cooper is asking President Donald Trump’s Administration to extend Wednesday’s enrollment deadline to give people an extra week to sign up for health insurance.
Cooper, a Democrat, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday and called for an extension at a press conference at Alliance Health Ministry in Raleigh on Wednesday.
“In the past the sign-up times were twice as long,” Cooper said at the press conference. “In the past, there have been extensions – because in the end, a lot of people procrastinate.”
But Cooper told the audience he hasn’t heard back federal health officials about his letter, and advised them not to hold their breath for a response.
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A short enrollment period was one of several changes implemented after Congress was unable to muster enough votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration also cut marketing and advertising funds for the program.
In his letter to acting health secretary Eric Hargan, Cooper noted that the six-week open enrollment period is resulting in a drop in the number of people signing up. Under former President Barack Obama, ACA open enrollment periods lasted twice as long, ending Jan. 31, and sometimes beyond that with special last-minute extensions.
North Carolina has logged the nation’s third-highest enrollment total to date, after Florida and Texas, among the 39 states that use the federal exchange for enrollment. But as of Dec. 9, only 271,301 people in the state have signed up, which is about half the number of people enrolled in 2017. The Congressional Budget Office projected in September that ACA enrollments would be curtailed by the truncated enrollment deadline set by the Trump Administration.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington made a similar request Tuesday to extend the deadline. They said the unusually short enrollment deadline “is compounded by the many other efforts by this Administration to destabilize the insurance market, making it likely that many consumers miss this deadline and forgo insurance next year.”
They said that millions fewer consumers have signed up for ACA coverage so far this year. Coverage for 2018 takes effect Jan. 1.
Most states use a federal exchange for enrolling customers, with terms set by the federal government. But 11 states plus the District of Columbia run their own exchanges, which are operated independently under their own terms and deadlines, some not ending open enrollment until mid-January.
Allowing open enrollment to continue into January is deemed important because some people allow their coverage to renew automatically, and when their health insurance becomes effective on Jan. 1, they realize that the default health care plan chosen for them by a computer program is not the best choice for them and their families. Longer deadlines allow customers to change plans and make another selection.
The Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to sell policies to people regardless of their medical condition, provides federal subsidies to offset insurance costs for middle- and lower-income families, and also requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a financial penalty. Most Americans, however, buy health insurance through their employers or through a federal program like Medicare or Medicaid. Those who buy ACA plans through federal or state exchanges are buying individual health insurance directly from the insurance company.