12.2M enroll in health plans on state, federal exchanges

Health insurance, pen and stethoscope
Last year, signups at the end of the open enrollment period totaled 12.7 million. Image: Getty/Minerva Studio

Total enrollment for Affordable Care Act exchange plans this year has reached 12.2 million, down slightly from 2016 amid uncertainty about the healthcare law's future.

The most recent official figures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services put signups at 9.2 million for the 39 states the use Healthcare.gov. A full report from CMS isn’t expected for another month, but after checking with the remaining 11 states and the District of Columbia, the Associated Press found an additional 3 million enrolled, for a national total of 12.2 million.

Last year, signups at the end of the open enrollment period totaled 12.7 million, including 9.6 million who enrolled through Healthcare.gov and 3.1 million through state exchanges.

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When CMS announced the Healthcare.gov signup totals, some blamed the dip from 9.6 million to 9.2 million on the Trump administration’s executive order about the ACA and its decision to halt most radio and TV ads promoting open enrollment, FierceHealthcare reported.

RELATED: Open enrollment ad stoppage, Trump executive order heighten insurers' worries

Indeed, uncertainty about what will happen to the exchanges under Trump may have factored into the slow enrollment this year, experts told the AP.

"We heard from consumers saying they thought 'Obamacare' had ended with President Obama's administration," said Elizabeth Colvin, who leads the enrollment program at Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit.

One Republican lawmaker, though, argued the stagnating enrollment figures were a sign the healthcare law is failing. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the AP that it is clear signups are trending downward, saying this is likely due to “unpopular mandates and high costs.”

In fact, some of the more conservative Republicans are pushing for their party to speed up its effort to repeal and replace the ACA. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, in particular, has emerged as a vocal critic of the idea of waiting on a repeal until the GOP comes up with a replacement.

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Year by year, resistance to extending Medicaid to more low-income Americans in conservative states has given way.

Though a Medicare buy-in plan would likely lower costs for older adults, it could lead to higher premiums for younger people in the exchanges.

The AMA has adopted a new policy that calls on medical schools to incorporate additional training on health economics into their curricula.