Nearly 51,000 Louisiana consumers selected individual health plans during the first five weeks of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act.
With a Friday deadline, just one day remains to sign up for so-called Obamacare health plans at Healthcare.gov — an exception being most of the parishes affected by Tropical Storm Harvey in the central and western portions of the state.
During last year's enrollment period, more than 143,000 Louisiana consumers selected Obamacare health plan through Healthcare.gov, the online marketplace. However, roughly 20,000 of them either didn't pay their premiums or dropped coverage at some point.
Figures released Wednesday by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services marked the first time the federal government released state-by-state enrollment figures for 2018 sign-ups.
Brian Burton, who heads the state's largest navigator group, said it's important to remember that the just-released figures don't include people who will be automatically re-enrolled in health plans.
Consumers who picked a plan last year but do not return to Healthcare.gov to update their applications will be automatically enrolled in a 2018 plan, according to Healthcare.gov. Of the 143,577 Louisiana consumers who selected a plan last year, 43,785, or 30 percent, were automatic enrollees.
Burton said he expects the addition of those consumers could push the enrollment for 2018 close to that of 2017.
The navigators, who help consumers enroll in plans, have been incredibly busy, Burton said. Consumers' No. 1 question is whether they have to purchase health insurance.
The requirement is still the law of the land, if they don't already have a health insurance plan, Burton said.
Greg Town, president of Baton Rouge health insurance agency Enroll.US, said his firm has enrolled about 2,450 people so far and expects that number will grow to about 3,000.
"We're seeing an uptick these last few days," Town said.
Open enrollment started quickly but cooled off the last couple of weeks, he said. Town is hoping the enrollment period will be extended through the weekend, but if that happens the federal government probably won't make an announcement until Friday.
Meanwhile, Louisiana consumers who live in parishes that were declared hurricane disaster areas in 2017 will have until Dec. 31 to enroll in a plan, Town said. Most of the parishes affected by Tropical Storm Harvey lie in the central and western portions of the state. The federal declaration included Plaquemines, St. Charles, Lafayette, Iberia, St. Mary, Lafourche, Acadia, Allen, Assumption, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, DeSoto, Jefferson Davis, Natchitoches, Rapides, Red River, Sabine, Vermilion and Vernon parishes.
Some 4.7 million people from 39 states enrolled in health plans through Healthcare.gov during the first five weeks of open enrollment. Eleven other states and the District of Columbia have their own marketplaces, where several million are estimated to have signed up for Obamacare.
During last year's open enrollment period, which was twice the current 45-day enrollment period, 12.2 million consumers enrolled nationally.
Health industry members had predicted enrollment would plunge for 2018 plans, in large part because the Trump administration slashed the advertising budget for the ACA and cut the enrollment period in half. Early figures showed much higher numbers of consumers were enrolling, and the current numbers are still higher than at the five-week mark a year ago. But some still are questioning whether enrollment will reach last year's levels.