Health

Obamacare Open Enrollment Brings Stable Market, Steady Sign-Ups

About 105,000 Georgians have already enrolled in the Federal Health Insurance Exchange this year.
About 105,000 Georgians have already enrolled in the Federal Health Insurance Exchange this year.
Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press
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Updated at 10:50 a.m. Sunday

Stacy Howe spends a lot of time on her iPad this time of year. She uses it to help people sign up for coverage on Healthcare.gov during open enrollment, which runs until Dec. 15.

At an office in Decatur, Howe pulls up the current health plan offerings in Muscogee County in the western part of the state.

“We’ll just pick the first one,” she said. “It would be $217 a month. The deductible is $8,150.”

Howe said that monthly cost would be even higher for someone who doesn’t qualify for a federal subsidy. Those are tax credits that go to people who make between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level.

Still, Howe said potentially high prices aren’t stopping people from picking plans. Neither is the recent elimination of the federal tax penalty for people who don’t have insurance, one of many tweaks to Obamacare from the Trump administration.

“People are still anxious to sign up,”  Howe said. “It was slow getting started, but it’s really rolling at this point.”

Howe has helped people sign up for health coverage for the last four years and estimates she’s assisted thousands in that time.

Federal numbers show, so far, sign-ups in the state are about where they were at this time last year. About 105,000 Georgians have already enrolled.

“They return every year to sign back up again,” said Howe’s boss, Cathy Bowden. “We don’t have to call them, they call us.”

Bowden is with the Georgia Primary Care Association, a group that represents health clinics around the state. It’s has been enrolling people in Obamacare health coverage since the early days of the exchange. 

This year, they’re the official navigator, a designation that comes with $550,000 in federal funding for enrollment activities. It’s about half the money the group received in previous years.

“We still don’t have as many plans available in some of the rural areas as we’d like to see. Some of them only have one choice,” Bowden said.  “We would like to see more plans available, and it is expanding, so that’s great.”

The individual insurance market in Georgia is looking better than it has in the past few years. 

“At this point, there are a number of residents from Georgia that have signed up, which of course, is what we want to see,” said Jean Moody-Williams, who is with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the individual insurance marketplace.

Moody-Williams attributes that to efforts from the Trump administration to make signing up easier this year, such as a visual refresh of Healthcare.gov.

But some see the administration as hostile to Obamacare. The White House has made a number of changes to the law aimed at taking it apart

It’s also backing a lawsuit that could overturn the health care law altogether. And that would make Georgia’s insurance market decidedly less stable.

Editor’s note: The amount in federal funding for enrollment activities has been updated