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The Trump administration late Friday blasted Obamacare as a failure after releasing final enrollment numbers for the federal health insurance exchange that were lower than the sign-up tally for 2016's open enrollment season.
A total of 9.2 million Americans signed up for plans sold on HealthCare.gov, which serves 39 states, by the close of open enrollment on Tuesday, officials said.
That's about 400,000 people fewer than had signed up last year. Advocates said the lower tally reflects efforts by the Trump administration to "sabotage" enrollment by pulling back ads and outreach for HealthCare.gov as of last week.
But even with fewer sign-ups on HealthCare.gov, when added to enrollment from individual state-run exchanges, an estimated 12 million or so people nationally have selected Obamacare plans, despite all the talk of President Donald Trump's plans to repeal and replace the law. That unofficial national tally is about 500,000 less than the national total for sign-ups last year.
"Obamacare has failed the American people, with one broken promise after another," said a spokesman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. The department's responsibilities include operating HealthCare.gov and overseeing Obamacare regulations.
"As noted today in a report from [the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, premiums in the [Affordable Care Act] marketplace have increased 25 percent while the number of insurers has declined 28 percent over the past year."
"We look forward to providing relief to those who are being harmed by the status quo and pursuing patient-centered solutions that will work for the American people," the spokesman said.
Benjamin Wakana, who until two week ago was the spokesman for HHS under the Obama administration, fired back at the new regime's characterization.
"That statement is insane, considering the ACA covered 20 million more people than any Republican plan," said Wakana, who with other Obama officials had enthusiastically promoted Obamacare enrollment until they left office two weeks ago.
"Maybe they could forward me their plan? I'd love to read it," said Wakana, a pointed reference to the fact that neither Trump or Republican congressional leaders have submitted a concrete plan to replace Obamacare after its planned repeal.
Andy Slavitt, who until last month was head of CMS, said "I've never had to run anything that I hoped would fail, so I can't put myself in their position."
"Even carrying out policies I thought I could be improved, I always tried my best to deliver value to the American people," said Slavitt, whose bailiwick had included HealthCare.gov.
The lower official tally from HealthCare.gov, suggests strongly that the Trump administration's controversial decision to pull back advertising and outreach efforts for the federal marketplace dampened enrollment.
Before that decision last week, former officials in the Obama administration had expected HealthCare.gov to set a new sign-up record by modestly exceeding last year's 9.6 million tally.
The effect of the Trump reversal of enrollment promotion was underscored by the fact that the pace of plan elections in the final two weeks of enrollment on HealthCare.gov was sharply lower than the pace seen last year.
Just 367,260 people signed up for coverage in the final two weeks of enrollment on the federal exchange, officials said. That compares to more than 700,000 plan selections in the last week of 2016 enrollment alone.
Despite the slower pace at the end and lower tally overall on HealthCare.gov, Obamacare advocates lauded the final tally as evidence that demand for health insurance under the law remains strong.
"No matter how hard Republicans try, the American people won't let them rip away their health care. More than 12 million people just stood up against efforts to repeal the law without a plan," said Leslie Dach, director of the Protect Our Care Coalition. "And with support in Congress floundering, it's clear that Republicans are in disarray because the benefits of the Affordable Care Act are popular."
"Open enrollment was a success, and it would have been even higher without the Trump Administration's efforts to suppress enrollment," Dach said. "An estimated 500,000 fewer people signed up on HealthCare.gov because of Trump's attempted sabotage. Despite that, Americans continued to enroll in the final weeks, proving that there is considerable demand for quality and affordable coverage. "
Dach added, "people want to keep their coverage and are making it clear that they won't stand for Republicans taking it away without any comprehensive and credible way to replace it."
Anne Filipic, president of the leading Obamacare enrollment advocacy group Enroll America, said,
"Today,HHS announced that more than 9.2 million Americans enrolled in Affordable Care Act insurance this year in the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov alone, within percent of the total from last year."
"There is no doubt that enrollment would have been even higher if not for the uncertainty caused by political attacks on the law, and the Trump Administration's decision not to provide consumers with a lot of the resources and support available to help them enroll," Filipic said.
"But the fact that in the face of opposition and controversy, millions of Americans continued to enroll is an incredible testament to the importance of Affordable Care Act coverage to families all across the country. All Americans deserve the peace of mind that comes with quality, affordable coverage; thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate is lower than it has ever been, and we need to continue to build on that success, rather than risk leaving families without the coverage they've come to rely on."