Despite President Donald Trump’s many efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, the pace of enrollment is up in California and the rest of the nation, an indication that Obamacare is more popular — and useful — than its loudest critic cares to acknowledge.
In California, more than 48,000 new consumers signed up for coverage in the first two weeks after open enrollment started Nov. 1. That’s slightly ahead of the pace during the same two weeks last year, when 39,000 enrolled, according to Covered California, the state’s insurance marketplace.
In California, the sign-up continues until Jan. 31; residents who want coverage to begin on Jan. 1 must enroll by Dec. 15.
Nationally, the story is similar: Almost 1.5 million people signed up in the first weeks of open enrollment in the 39 states tracked by healthcare.gov. That’s a 47 percent increase in enrollees over the same period a year ago, although the share of new consumers signing up is down slightly. The remaining states, like California, run their own exchanges, and they also report an increase in total enrollees.
The surge is remarkable, given the president’s many attempts to undermine Obamacare. On Twitter and elsewhere, Trump has repeatedly claimed that President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement is “imploding,” despite independent assessments that it’s still viable and that some facets — including coverage of pre-existing conditions — are overwhelmingly popular.
This year, the Trump administration cut the enrollment period in half for most states and slashed the advertising budget for open enrollment by 90 percent. Obamacare advocates took to Facebook and other social media to spread the word about the start of open enrollment. Covered California, to its credit, continued with its marketing and outreach efforts. Last year the exchange spent $110 million — 11 times the amount budgeted for advertising Obamacare nationwide.
Administration officials argued that a lengthy open-enrollment period and widespread advertising weren’t necessary because so many Americans are already familiar with Obamacare. Some of those critics undoubtedly will argue the early surge in enrollment this month proves they were right.
But the increases should tell critics something else, too. As maligned — and flawed — as Obamacare is, it’s still something that Americans feel they need because they can’t find affordable coverage anywhere else.
Trump officials shouldn’t discount that support or need. Earlier this month, voters in Maine sent a rebuke to the White House when they approved by referendum a plan to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Other states are now considering similar initiatives.
Obamacare still has room for improvement. It would be stronger if consumers had more insurers and more affordable plans to choose from. As public policy, though, the program is sound, having helped cut the number of uninsured in California by half since its inception and given millions of Americans a means to access health care.
Despite those successes, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are still more intent on repealing rather repairing Obamacare. While they fight with Democrats to yet another stalemate, it appears Americans are letting it be known they aren’t ready to let go of Obamacare — no matter what the president tweets.