State Politics

Obamacare enrollment is down in NC. Blame the Trump administration, Roy Cooper says.

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 27, 2012 file photo, Amy Brighton from Medina, Ohio, who opposes health care reform, holds a sign in front of the Supreme Court in Washington during a rally as the court continues arguments on the health care law signed by President Barack Obama. Entrenched political divisions over "Obamacare" have driven most Republican-led states to turn their backs on the biggest expansion of the social safety net in a half century. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 27, 2012 file photo, Amy Brighton from Medina, Ohio, who opposes health care reform, holds a sign in front of the Supreme Court in Washington during a rally as the court continues arguments on the health care law signed by President Barack Obama. Entrenched political divisions over "Obamacare" have driven most Republican-led states to turn their backs on the biggest expansion of the social safety net in a half century. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) AP

More than 25,000 North Carolinians who got their health insurance through Obamacare last year declined to enroll again in 2018, and Gov. Roy Cooper is blaming President Donald Trump’s administration.

Nevertheless, North Carolina still has more people enrolled than nearly every other state. Only Florida and Texas had more.

Cooper’s office reported Wednesday that nearly 524,000 state residents signed up for health care through the Affordable Care Act, which is more commonly called Obamacare, for 2018. That’s down from 549,000 in 2017 and up from 513,000 in 2016.

That means that about 5 percent of the state’s population – 1 in every 20 people – is enrolled in Obamacare’s federally-run health insurance exchange.

“I am certain that we could have served even more families had the deadline been extended, as I requested,” Cooper said in a press release Wednesday. “People with access to health insurance are able to stay healthier and seek and maintain employment, which is good for our state’s economy.”

North Carolina requested an extension of the deadline to enroll, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services denied that request – a change from past years under former President Barack Obama’s administration, which granted extensions several times. The deadline passed in mid-December.

On top of that, the Trump administration also shortened the enrollment period, from three months to six weeks. DHHS also cut its budget for advertising Obamacare by more than 90 percent.

Under Trump, DHHS was led for a few months by Tom Price, a former member of Congress from Georgia who was a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act. Price resigned in September following news that he had spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars chartering private planes; it’s now being led on an interim basis by Eric Hargan, who previously served in the George W. Bush administration.

Part of the reason behind North Carolina’s large amount of people on the exchange is that the state never accepted the federal government’s offer to expand Medicaid as allowed by Obamacare, which would have covered thousands of people here.

Cooper made a 2016 campaign promise to accept that Medicaid expansion — but that plan fell apart, in the face of opposition from the Republicans who control the General Assembly.

Some Republicans in the General Assembly did propose a plan of their own last year to expand Medicaid. It had job requirements and a small income-based premium that weren’t in the federal offer that Cooper wanted, and which the sponsors thought would make it more appealing to their fellow conservatives. But that plan didn’t go anywhere in the legislature, either.

On Wednesday, Cooper said he thinks the fact that enrollment didn’t drop much in North Carolina, despite all the changes at the federal level, show that demand for health care remains high.

“North Carolina’s strong signup numbers – despite a drastically shorter enrollment period – show that our families want and need quality health coverage,” he said.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran

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