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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Shortened enrollment period for Affordable Care Act gets a healthy start in Missouri

Medical assistant Raquis Tyler, Dr. Heidi Miller and nurse Cindi Boehm discuss treatment plans for patients at Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis.
File photo | Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio
Medical assistant Raquis Tyler, Dr. Heidi Miller and nurse Cindi Boehm discuss treatment plans for patients at Family Care Health Centers in St. Louis.

Once again, people who don’t get health insurance through their job are logging into online market places set up by the Affordable Care Act to buy it on their own. This year, the enrollment season is shorter —  six weeks — but business is brisk.  

In the first four weeks of this year’s enrollment season, 78,676 Missourians enrolled in a plan, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That’s about 17,000 more people than were signed up during the same period last year.  

In Illinois, the four-week total was 95,434, up from 68,198 in 2016.

The 2018 enrollment season ends Dec. 15.

The higher enrollment comes despite steep federal cuts to advertising for Healthcare.gov and other exchanges, said Tim Williams, hub manager for the Cover Missouri Coalition. He attributes the numbers to two factors: enrollees are anticipating a shorter signup period, and plans for most people are less expensive than they were last year.

“The majority of people that I have enrolled are signing up for plans that are cheaper than they were paying last year, and in some cases they’re enrolling in zero-dollar plans,” Williams said. “I’ve not seen people enroll in zero-dollar plans with such low deductibles during an open enrollment period.”

That’s not because premiums are going down — far from it. The Trump administration’s decision this year to end cost-sharing payments to insurance companies drove insurance rates up. But premiums also rose on benchmark plans, which are used to calculate the income-based federal subsidies given to low- and middle-income enrollees. For many consumers, the higher subsidies are cancelling out the rising premium, and passing the cost on to the federal government (more about how that works here).

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB

Copyright 2017 St. Louis Public Radio

Durrie Bouscaren was a general assignment reporter with Iowa Public Radio from March 2013 through July 2014.
Durrie Bouscaren
Durrie Bouscaren covers healthcare and medical research throughout the St. Louis metro area. She comes most recently from Iowa Public Radio’s newsroom in Des Moines, where she reported on floods, a propane shortage, and small-town defense contractors. Since catching the radio bug in college, Bouscaren has freelanced and interned at NPR member stations WRVO, WAER and KQED. Her work has aired on All Things Considered, KQED’s The California Report, and Harvest Public Media, a regional reporting collaborative.