No more tax mandate. Trump ends a subsidy. And Idaho Obamacare sign-ups near a record

In this Oct. 18 photo, the website is seen on a computer screen in Washington.
In this Oct. 18 photo, the website is seen on a computer screen in Washington. AP file

A near-record number of Idahoans have signed up for 2018 health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

When the enrollment window closed Dec. 15, a total of 101,793 people had chosen plans on the state’s insurance exchange, Your Health Idaho.

Last year, a record 105,977 Idahoans signed up for exchange plans.

Your Health Idaho Executive Director Pat Kelly noted the near-record enrollment was in spite of “enormous uncertainty from Washington” and a much tighter deadline for people to sign up than in previous years.

In addition, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans took actions in the past year to undo some of the Affordable Care Act’s tenets — cutting off federal cost-sharing subsidy payments, doing away with the mandate that all Americans must be insured, and slashing the budget for advertising the federally run health insurance exchange that most states use.

Idaho is one of just 12 states with its own health insurance exchange and as such, had the ability to keep a longer enrollment period, the Associated Press reports. Many other state-based exchanges chose to do that, but Idaho followed the federal government’s shorter deadline, with exchange officials saying that most Idahoans had selected plans by Dec. 15 in the past.

The repeal of the mandate — accomplished through the recent tax reform law — takes effect in 2019, so it is unlikely to have much effect in Idaho next year, Your Health Idaho said. The exchange’s officials estimate, based on market research and feedback from insurers, that about 5 percent to 7 percent of customers might drop their insurance coverage if they’re not legally required to have it.

Idaho’s state-run exchange is one of the most popular in the U.S. It has led the nation in the number of enrollments per capita, and it has offered plans from a number of insurers every year. Four companies sold plans this year, while exchanges in other states dwindled to one or two insurers.

The vast majority of people who buy insurance from the exchange receive a federal subsidy to help pay their premiums. Those subsidies are available to people with household incomes between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

“A significant difference for 2018 is the monthly premium pricing,” Your Health Idaho said in a news release Wednesday. “Increased tax credits offset rising premiums to the extent that some Idahoans purchased plans for little to no monthly cost. Enrollments in these less expensive bronze plans increased by 15 percentage points over the previous year.”

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton