Obamacare is more popular than ever in S.C., but 2019 increase not "unusual"

National enrollment is down by four percent

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More South Carolinians are insured through the Affordable Care Act than ever before, according to new figures from the S.C. Department of Insurance.

As of Jan. 2, more than 203,000 people in the state had paid for a health insurance plan from the federal marketplace. In total, 214,956 people in South Carolina selected a plan on HealthCare.gov, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, though not all of them paid their first month's premium.

The 2019 enrollment period covered 98,000 more people in S.C. than in 2015, but only 4,300 more than last year.



"It is a slight uptick and so I don’t think that’s unusual," said S.C. Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer in a phone call with the City Paper. "I think that’s just a natural occurrence."

Eleven percent of South Carolinians remain uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"I'm just glad we have those 203,000 plus citizens insured," he added.

About 8.4 million people nationwide enrolled in plans through HealthCare.gov during the 2019 open enrollment period, which lasted from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, according to CMS. More than 2 million of those are completely new to the program.

The number of people who signed up throughout the country is down by 332,000, or about four percent, from last year.

For the past three enrollment periods, BlueCross BlueShield has been the only insurer in most of S.C. offering plans in the federal marketplace. This year, Charleston County residents could also choose from plans offered by Absolute Total Care.

In 2018, the Trump administration announced it was cutting $26 million in ACA outreach for navigators, the nonprofits and organizations that help customers sign up for plans on the federal marketplace. That 70 percent cut came after a 40 percent cut the year before.

"There’s less funding for navigators than there has been in the past, but I don’t think that’s affected this," Farmer said about S.C. sign-ups overall.

A July 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office also found that the Department of Health and Human Services spent $10 million on advertising for the 2018 open enrollment period, down from $100 million in 2017.

"It’s my belief that our consumers are better served when our market has competition, and right now, we don’t have a lot of competition in the marketplace," Farmer said. "At some point, those in charge of the federal program need to figure out why there are few programs in the marketplace."

The average South Carolinian covered through the marketplace in 2019 is 42 years old.

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