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Customers defy Trump attacks to buy Obamacare, and vote for it

Anna Edney and John Tozzi, Bloomberg News on

Published in Health & Fitness

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have repeatedly said Obamacare is failing, or even dead. Yet there are signs across the country that support for the Affordable Car Act's programs is stronger than opponents have portrayed.

This past week in Virginia, where Democrats won a competitive race for governor, two-thirds of voters called health care a "very important" or the most important issue, according to one poll. Maine voted to expand Medicaid under the law, something the Republican governor had sworn not to do.

Enrollment under the law also appears strong in its first week -- the federal government released data Thursday showing that sign-ups in the first four days were higher than a year ago, when President Barack Obama's administration was running it.

Trump's repeated insistence that the law is a disaster, and congressional Republicans' attempts to repeal it, may have had the opposite effect from what they intended. Despite the administration slashing advertising for the enrollment period that started Nov. 1, and other steps to destabilize it, early signs indicate people are embracing the health program.

Trump's frequent attacks on the law may have only brought more attention to it, said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere, a health care consulting company.

"The reality is that the administration has been aggressively messaging about the exchanges," Mendelson said. "They've actually done outstanding marketing so far. Awareness of the program has never been higher."

Initial sign-up numbers for the first four days of enrollment in 2018 plans in most states totaled more than 600,000, up 45 percent from last year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of those, 137,322 were new customers.

Those positive signs for the law are early markers, and could change.

Maine and Virginia are just two states, and Democrats face challenging Senate midterm elections s next year. The administration also still has broad authority over how the law is administered, and Republicans debating tax legislation in Congress are talking about repealing a key requirement of the program that all Americans have coverage or pay a fine.

The enrollment season in most states lasts until Dec. 15, about half as long as last year. Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said it's too early to draw conclusions about how many people will sign up, or whether the mix of sick and healthy customers will be profitable for insurers.

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