In the first month of the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period, the number of South Carolinians who have signed up for a plan is down by about 2,500 from last year.
During open enrollment, consumers who want to buy their own health insurance plan can choose one on HealthCare.gov. Two carriers sell plans in the state — BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and newcomer Absolute Total Care, which is only offering policies in Charleston County.
The S.C. Department of Insurance won't release its numbers until the beginning of next year, so there is no word yet if Absolute Total Care's plans have been popular locally. But Ray Farmer, the agency's director, said a new entrant is good news for customers in Charleston, who now have a choice.
"Compare the plans, compare the companies," Farmer said. "Make the best choice."
A week remains to choose, as open enrollment ends Dec. 15. People who were enrolled last year will see their plans automatically renew at the end of next week.
Shelli Quenga, director of programs for the nonprofit insurance agency The Palmetto Project, encourages people to actively choose a plan even if they think they might stick with the same one from the year before.
"You need to go in and shop every year," Quenga said. "Don't accept that the information that was mailed to you is accurate for you this year."
The Palmetto Project, which helps people sign up for coverage, will be open until midnight on the 15th, taking calls from possible enrollees.
There is usually a surge of signups in the last week of open enrollment, Farmer said. Still, nationwide, the number of people who have signed up for a plan is down by more than 400,000 enrollees compared to the same time last year. Nearly 3.2 million Americans have signed up. Numbers come from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which releases data every week.
Where the numbers of people who sign up for coverage will land this year is a point of interest following attacks on the health care law from Republicans last year. Certain portions of the Affordable Care Act were stripped away or repealed, and thinner plans are available to purchase off the open exchanges this year.
The number of new customers is down nearly 18 percent overall, according to CMS.
Many Democrats blame the Trump administration for the slippage, but independent experts say there may be other reasons, too. In a strong economy people are more likely to find jobs with coverage.