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ACA health insurance enrollment exceeds forecasts in nation, state
Enrollment ends Dec. 31 in Georgia; 17.6 percent in Hall remain uncovered
The Healthcare.gov website is seen on a laptop computer in Washington. - photo by Associated Press

Despite earlier deadlines in most states this year, enrollment in the Affordable Care Act federal exchange fell only slightly, outpacing expectations.

The ACA, also known as “Obamacare,” created a network of market exchanges where those without health insurance could buy plans. About 8.8 million Americans signed up for 2018 plans on the ACA’s market exchanges, just shy of the 9.2 million who enrolled for 2017.

In Georgia, 482,904 signed up, close to last year’s total of 493,880, including almost 237,000 in the final week ending Dec. 15.

“Given the confusion around the proposed repeal of the ACA, the shorter enrollment period and the drastic cuts to consumer outreach and assistance, I expected enrollments to be much lower,” said Laura Colbert, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, an advocacy organization in Atlanta that encouraged ACA sign-ups. “This year’s enrollment numbers demonstrate that the ACA is fulfilling an important need for Georgia consumers who are looking for affordable, quality health coverage.”

Because of Hurricane Irma in September, Georgians can qualify for a special enrollment period that extends through Dec. 31.

In Hall, 17.6 percent of residents were uninsured, according to 2016 census figures, or about 34,475 people. But that’s down from 20.7 percent of residents in 2013 prior to the full rollout of the ACA.

The county’s uninsured rate, however, is higher than averages for the state, at 12.9 percent, and nation, at 12.3 percent.

But the ACA might be facing long-term trouble. Earlier this week, a $1.5 trillion tax reform passed by Congress included a repeal of the individual mandate that advocates said compelled consumers to purchase health insurance in lieu of a tax penalty.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins said the “experiment has continued to fail Americans,” resulting in 19 of Northeast Georgia’s 20 counties left with only one health insurance provider, and premium increases are likely to continue.

“The Affordable Care Act has been unbelievably costly for my neighbors, and — let’s be clear — no one loses health insurance because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repeals a government mandate,” Collins said in a statement to The Times. “What they’re losing is Big Brother breathing down their necks, demanding they buy a product that doesn’t meet their needs. My neighbors need affordable health care options, not government mandates or deductibles as high as Brasstown Bald.”

Josh McCall, who has announced his intention to run as a Democrat against Collins next fall, said that with enrollment numbers on par with last year, it’s a sign people want and need the most affordable health care possible.

“I really think the best advertisement has been desperation,” he said.

However, McCall agrees that repealing the individual mandate is a good thing. Though he objects to the mandate on constitutional and moral grounds, McCall said its elimination might also pave the way for a single-payer health care system as premiums rise.

This is what he dubs “Medicare for all.”

“When (Republicans) start messing with people’s heartbeat and sugar levels and pain management, they need to be careful,” McCall said. “Nobody should die because they’re poor, and nobody should be poor because they’re dying.”

To enroll, visit the ACA website at www.healthcare.gov.

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