Obamacare sign ups falling short, with two weeks left to enroll

Through four weeks, 17,525 Iowans have selected health insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act marketplace, according to new figures released Wednesday by the federal government.

That figure exceeds the number who had signed up by this point last year, but Iowa's insurance commissioner is still predicting a difficult year for the state's individual insurance market.

The new enrollment data comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The 17,525 figure is higher than the 12,099 who signed up on the Obamacare exchange after the first four weeks of enrollment last year. However, it's still too early to know how many people will end up in the market because of a number of variables, Doug Ommen, the state's insurance commissioner, said Wednesday.

Earlier this year, Ommen predicted that 18,000 to 22,000 Iowans who tend not to get federal tax credits will drop out of the individual market because of big premium increases. And he said Wednesday he sees no reason to alter that prediction. "I'm not seeing anything that suggests that what I expect will happen will not," he said Wednesday.

There are just two weeks to go before the end of the regular enrollment period on Dec. 15. The signup window of six weeks is just half what it was last year.

Greg Bury, a spokesman for Medica, the only company selling policies on the ACA exchange in Iowa, said today the company is projecting close to 50,000 will enroll by Jan. 1.

The new federal figures released Wednesday don't include the 13,000 members who are renewing with Medica, nor the 29,000 who were assigned to it in October.

Typically, enrollment figures ramp up toward the end of the signup window, so Wednesday's figures could change significantly. The number who had selected plans is up by about 3,000 from last week.

Some enrollment specialists have said they are seeing a greater level of interest than last year among those who qualify for premium subsidies. Because of the way insurance companies and state regulators dealt with the Trump administration's elimination of cost sharing subsidies for insurance companies that help with deductible and out-of-pocket costs for low- to moderate-income Americans, some plans are more affordable than in the past.

There are about 70,000 Iowans in the state's individual insurance market, Ommen said. The estimate that as many as 22,000 would drop out this year was included in the state's request to the Trump administration earlier this year to revamp the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The stopgap plan would have had all insurers sell a single, standardized plan, restructured premium subsidies and created a reinsurance pool to help with high-cost clients. The state withdrew the plan shortly before the onset of the enrollment period, which began Nov. 1.