Interest is lively at deadline for 'Obamacare' sign-ups

FILE - This file image provided by U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service shows the website for HealthCare.gov. As COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled in many places, a coalition of states, health care groups and activists is striving to drum up Obamacare sign-ups among a growing number of Americans uninsured in perilous times. (U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service via AP)
FILE - This file image provided by U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service shows the website for HealthCare.gov. As COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled in many places, a coalition of states, health care groups and activists is striving to drum up Obamacare sign-ups among a growing number of Americans uninsured in perilous times. (U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service via AP)

WASHINGTON – A crush of sign-ups expected Tuesday on the last day of open enrollment for HealthCare.gov could help solidify the standing of “Obamacare” as an improbable survivor in the Donald Trump years.

In 36 states that use HealthCare.gov,- Dec. 15 is deadline day for coverage that starts Jan. 1, while another 14 states and Washington, D.C., have later dates. Analysts and advocates who follow the annual insurance sign-ups say interest has gotten stronger with the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation.

Also, the legal cloud hanging over the Affordable Care Act seemed to start lifting last month when Supreme Court justices gave a skeptical reception to the latest challenge from the Trump administration and conservative-led states seeking to overturn the law in its entirety.

“The safety net is working,” said Chris Sloan of the consulting firm Avalere Health. When final numbers are released next year, Sloan says the ACA could surpass its current enrollment of 11.4 million people. “I think it's just reflective of the need being greater for people who have lost their jobs and need to find some other form of health insurance,” he said.

The insurance markets offer taxpayer subsidized private plans to people who don't have job-based coverage. Insurers cannot turn away customers with pre-existing medical conditions. Medicaid expansion, another component of the health law, covers about 12 million people.

Stephanie Burton, a solo practitioner lawyer from Kansas City, Missouri, said she recently renewed her coverage for 2021. For about $150 a month, after subsidies, Burton is also able to cover two young adult children as they negotiate their transition to self-sufficiency in a shaky economy.

But Burton said she's noticed that the annual enrollment season gets very little promotion. After Trump failed to repeal former President Barack Obama's signature law, not even the rising need for coverage amid coronavirus layoffs has persuaded his administration to rethink its opposition. Trump administration officials say what they have done is to focus on the smooth operation of the HealthCare.gov website for those who may want the coverage.

“Since I've always had it, I get reminders by email,” said Burton, but “there are a lot of people who may not even know how to find this information.”