Obama, Democrats push open enrollment period

The former president released a video Wednesday urging Americans to be insured.

November 1, 2017, 8:38 PM
PHOTO: A computer screen shows the enrollment page for the Affordable Care Act, Nov. 1, 2017, in Miami, Florida.
A computer screen shows the enrollment page for the Affordable Care Act, Nov. 1, 2017, in Miami, Florida. The open enrollment period to sign up for a health plan under the Affordable Care Act started today and runs through Dec. 15th.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

— -- With the open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act beginning today, former President Barack Obama released an ad encouraging Americans to buy health care insurance and remain insured under his signature law.

“It’s November 1st, which means today is the first day to get covered for 2018,” says Obama in a video posted to Facebook to raise awareness about open enrollment.

During the next six weeks, Americans who are self-employed, who do not get insurance from their employers or who just want to shop for more options, can sign up and purchase plans sold online on state and federally run marketplaces.

“Healthcare.gov is open for business right now. You can shop for a health insurance plan that’s right for you and your family,” Obama says in the video, adding that a majority of Americans may be eligible for pans that cost less than $75.

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The video message was posted by Get America Covered, an organization started this year by former Obama Administration officials Josh Peck and Lori Lodes, as well as former Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Andy Slavitt, to provide advertising, outreach and education about the Affordable Care Act, especially during the open enrollment period. Their effort comes as the Trump administration has taken a number of steps to limit open enrollment options and slash resources states used to implement the law.

Several experts and state officials around the country, who work to sign-up residents for new health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, tell ABC News the Trump administration’s recent actions have undermined their work, led to price increases and created confusion.

The fact, for example, that President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the Affordable Care Act “dead” and vowed to repeal and replace it has left consumers unsure about their options, health care experts say.

This year, the administration has cut the period of open enrollment in half and HealthCare.gov will have regular “outages” for twelve hours almost every Sunday during the open enrollment period. The Department of Health and Human Services says the outages are for maintenance, but critics and staff from the previous administration says such long outages are simply a way to shorten the enrollment period even more and make it harder for Americans to sign-up while they are home on the weekend.

HHS also slashed advertising by 90 percent and cut enrollment events.

“There is a lack of basic awareness that November 1 to December 15 to sign up for coverage,” said Lodes, a former communications official under Obama who recently worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Democratic think tanks.

“We have a very good idea of what works and what doesn’t work,” Lodes told ABC News about her experience with implementing the Affordable Care Act. “And we want to make sure that people not only have a good experience but you’re going to get the facts to sign up for coverage.”

Mila Kofman runs the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, she says funding cuts at the federal level have had real consequences in terms of morale, awareness and organization.

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“Recent cuts really created some angst and even though we are locally funded and locally managed," Kofman said.

“The DC market is very expensive to advertise in,” said Kofman. “We just don’t have the millions it would take to make up for the federal loss.”

In Nevada, local officials running their state health insurance exchange said they wanted to make sure residents knew they were open for business.

"Despite federal uncertainties surrounding the Affordable Care Act, the Exchange is laser focused on the upcoming open enrollment period," said Heather Korbulic, executive director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange.

Her staff expressed concerns about the news last month that the federal government would stop paying subsidies that help lower the costs of certain middle-of-road “silver” plans on the state exchanges. Though Nevada worked with insurance companies to prepare for that possibility, local officials worried the headlines so close to open enrollment could scare people off or lead people to assume that prices have already skyrocketed.

Perhaps in an ironic twist, even as premiums for some plans increase as a result of President Trump’s decision to cancel those cost sharing subsidies, more than 80 percent of enrollees according to HHS -- compared to 71 percent last year -- will be able to get a plan with a $75 or less premium due to other tax credits and caps on out-of-pockets outlines locked in though other parts of the current law.

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