Nearly 524,000 North Carolinians signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act for
2018, Governor Cooper's press office reported yesterday, giving the state the third-highest enrollment numbers in the country.
That's despite ongoing Republican efforts to undermine Obama's signature health care law. The Trump administration, which has repeatedly tried to repeal the ACA, cut short the length of the enrollment period from three months to six weeks, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services slashed the program's advertising budget by upward of 90 percent. Until a few months ago, DHHS was led by Tom Price, a former Georgia Republican congressman and ACA foe who resigned in the fall over revelations about his use of taxpayer funds to charter private flights.
Cooper requested to extend the enrollment deadline to December 22 but was rebuffed by the DHHS acting secretary. Cooper attributed to that decision North Carolina's lower ACA signups for 2018, which were down about twenty thousand from last year. In 2017, nearly 550,000 people enrolled in the program.
“I am certain that we could have served even more families had the deadline been extended, as I requested,” he said. “People with access to health insurance are able to stay healthier and seek and maintain employment, which is good for our state’s economy.”
In spite of the obstacles, sign-ups this year were
higher than they were in 2016—and only two states, Florida and Texas, had higher enrollment numbers. North Carolina's sign-up rate is likely due, at least in part, to the state's refusal to expand Medicaid—the health insurance program for low-income Americans—which would have extended coverage to about five hundred thousand people. Cooper vowed to expand Medicaid under the ACA after taking office, but he can't do that without sign-off from the Republican-controlled General Assembly—which, to say the least, is not particularly fond of Obamacare.
Nevertheless, Cooper said the high number of sign-ups is a testament to the program's popularity in the state.
“North Carolina’s strong signup numbers—despite a drastically shorter enrollment period—show that our families want and need quality health coverage."