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People signing up for Obamacare at faster pace than last year as Republicans work to dismantle it

Noam N. Levey, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Health & Fitness

WASHINGTON -- While Republicans lay the groundwork for rolling back the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans are still signing up for Obamacare health plans, new federal data show.

As of Dec. 24, more than 11.5 million people had enrolled in a health plan through one of the insurance marketplaces created by health law, including HealthCare.gov.

That is nearly 300,000 more sign-ups than last year at this point, signaling continued strength in the marketplaces despite the uncertainty about whether the incoming Trump administration and congressional Republicans will scrap them.

"Nationwide demand for health coverage is higher than ever, as Americans prove again that marketplace coverage is vital to them and their families," Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said.

Obama administration officials have been urging Americans to continue signing up for health plans even as they prepare to hand over control of the marketplaces following President-elect Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.

But many consumers are worried, and officials said Tuesday that federal call centers have fielded more than 35,000 calls from Americans asking if they will have coverage this year under a Trump administration.

This enrollment period, the fourth since the law's coverage expansion began, comes at a critical moment for the marketplaces and the health law that Obama signed in 2010.

The coverage expansion has recorded historic gains, as more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans gained health insurance and the nation's uninsured rate dropped to the lowest level ever recorded.

Congressional Republicans have pledged to vote to roll back the law early this year, though it remains unclear how they will repeal it and what, if anything, they will develop in its place.

GOP lawmakers have not to date advanced any alternatives that would protect the millions of people who now depend on health coverage through Obamacare.

Many of these Americans have low incomes and rely on Medicaid, which has been expanded through the health law.

About 11 million got commercial health plans last year through HealthCare.gov and similar state-based insurance marketplaces that were created through the law.

More than 80 percent of these consumers receive government subsidies to offset the cost of their premiums.

This open enrollment period continues through Jan. 31, and consumers have until Sunday to sign up for coverage that starts Feb. 1.

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