Strong showing for Obama health law as almost 9M sign up

Democrats worried millions who didn't sign up for Obamacare may get penalty

Democrats worried millions who didn't sign up for Obamacare may get penalty

Those states will need to combine for 3.4 million enrollees to match last year's program wide total of 12.2 million. The figure this year had been expected to be much lower, partly because President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress repeatedly tried to take down the entire program.

The enrollment numbers could play into the deeply politicized USA healthcare debate, with Democrats citing the relative stability as a sign that Obamacare remains a vital program to millions of Americans despite Trump's insistence that it is "imploding" and already "dead".

About 9.2 million people signed up for 2017 Obamacare policies through the federal website, with the total number including those who enrolled through state programs reaching about 12 million. CMS said 1.01 million new consumers and 3.13 million returning policyholders signed up from December 10 to December 15.

About 8.8 million people have signed up for coverage next year under the Affordable Care Act, the government said Thursday. Independent analysts say millions of people could leave the marketplace.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president of special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, called the number of enrollees "truly remarkable" in a tweet Thursday, adding that he was very surprised at the turnout.

"We know anecdotally that many state exchanges are running ahead of a year ago, (and) we could actually make up the national enrollment deficit with higher state-run exchange enrollment", said Chris Sloan of the consulting firm Avalere Health. Enrollment is still open in parts of seven states, including Florida and Texas, that use the federal exchange but were affected by hurricanes earlier this year.

The robust numbers for sign-ups on the federal exchange - 96 percent of last year's total - surprised both supporters and opponents of the health law, who nearly universally thought the numbers would be lower. Foundation Communities signed up 5,323 people this year, or about 20 percent more than last year. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that about 13 million more people will opt out of health insurance in 10 years, without the individual mandate.

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"The number that came out today proves that Obamacare is working", said Colvin.

Open enrollment for Affordable Care Act plans dipped slightly this year over last year, according to the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Republican tax overhaul passed by Congress on Wednesday revoked a key element of Obamacare: a fine imposed on people who do not obtain health insurance.

The numbers come a day after Trump proclaimed that the GOP tax bill "essentially repealed Obamacare".

However, the administration also took other less noticed steps to facilitate enrollment, such as creating an easier path for insurers and brokers to sign up customers.

"We take pride in providing great customer service", she wrote, congratulating her agency on "the smoothest experience for consumers to date". But so far, Republicans have been unable to do so, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on NPR this week that he doesn't see repealing the law on the Senate's agenda in 2018.

Bipartisan legislation to stabilize insurance markets is still alive in Congress, but its prospects are unclear.

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