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480,000 Georgians have chosen Obamacare health plans so far

Senate could vote this week to begin repeal of the Affordable Care Act

More than 480,000 Georgians have selected health plans through the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, insurance marketplace so far, new federal data shows.

Nationally, upwards of 11.5 million Americans have chosen ACA plans for 2017 so far — up 2.5 percent from the same period during last year’s open enrollment, according to a Department of Health and Human Services report released Tuesday.

The Affordable Care Act in Georgia

In Georgia, enrollment is down about 6 percent from the same time last year (Nov.1-Dec. 24, 2016). But that relatively small drop reflects a status quo for the Obamacare marketplace here, said Bill Custer, a healthcare expert at Georgia State University.

Some people may not have signed up because of higher premiums, Custer said. Meanwhile, the result of the presidential election could have had a positive or a negative effect on enrollment, he said.

Some people may no longer worry about getting coverage, assuming the law won’t be around for long, Custer said. Others may think they should get, or keep, the health insurance available to them while they can.

There are a lot of changes that could have affected enrollment that canceled each other out, he said.

The fate of Georgia’s insurance marketplace going forward is unclear.

Congress could vote within the next couple of days to begin systematically dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health law. Republican leaders have long called for repeal, with President-elect Donald Trump supporting repeal as well.

Georgian at the center of Obamacare repeal

But the process could prove to be more difficult than many GOP lawmakers anticipated.

A number of Republican senators have already raised concerns about repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan. Republican Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan have also warned of the consequences of repealing the law without an alternative in place. Both of those states have benefited from expanding Medicaid under the law — extending insurance to hundreds of thousands of people and bringing billions of new federal dollars into their economies.

Georgia is one of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid.

POLL: 75% of Georgians support Medicaid expansion

Expansion here would extend health insurance to an estimated 600,000 poor residents. Georgia has the third-highest uninsured rate in the country at 13.9 percent, behind only Texas (17.1 percent) and Alaska (14.9 percent), the latest Census Bureau data shows.

State lawmakers have said that for now, however, it doesn’t make sense to make any big policy decisions about Medicaid. Instead, they will wait to see what actions Congress takes in the months ahead.

Open enrollment for Obamacare coverage in 2017 ends Jan. 31.

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