In spite of complaints about lack of competition in Arizona, exchange plan signup activity there is up 8.3 percent year-over-year. (Image: CMS)

The HealthCare.gov public exchange system may be attracting fewer new customers this year but doing a better job of retaining in-force business.

Managers of HealthCare.gov had 2017 exchange plan selection information for 8.8 million people in their system as of Dec. 31, according to a new report.

About 2.2 million of the plan selectors, or 25 percent of the selectors, were new to HealthCare.gov. The others had coverage from HealthCare.gov exchange plan issuers in 2016, and are sticking with HealthCare.gov issuers this year.

The open enrollment period for 2017 started Nov. 1 and is set to end Jan. 31.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set up HealthCare.gov to provide Affordable Care Act exchange plan enrollment and account administration services in states that are unwilling or unable to perform the job themselves. The system handles ACA exchange enrollment in 38 states.

Managers issued a similar HealthCare.gov activity report, for 2016 coverage, about a year ago. The reporting period used in that report ended Dec. 26, 2015.

In the report for the period ending Dec. 26, 2015, HealthCare.gov managers said they had signup information for 8.5 million people, including 2.5 million people who were new to the system, and 6 million who had accounts with HealthCare.gov in 2015 and were continuing to use HealthCare.gov issuer coverage in 2016.

The total number of plan selectors reported increased 2.8 percent. The number of new plan selectors fell 11 percent. The number of returning enrollees increased 8.5 percent.

Related: HealthCare.gov increases signups 6%

The last time HealthCare.gov managers reported activity data for 2017, they excluded people who were being automatically re-enrolled in exchange plan coverage. The new figures include the automatic re-enrollees.

CMS avoids calling new users who have just signed up for coverage “enrollees,” because exchange users are not health plan enrollees until they effectuate their coverage by making premium payments. Some of the new plan selectors have paid their premiums, but some have not. In the past, about 85 percent of exchange plan selectors have effectuated their coverage.

The Dec. 31, 2016, activity figures include plan selection information for Kentucky, which just started using HealthCare.gov this year. Kentucky had 70,542 plan selectors Dec. 31, down from 81,121 Dec. 26, 2015.

Florida and Texas have been the HealthCare.gov states with the most exchange plan users.

The number of plan selectors in Florida has increased to 1.64 million Dec. 31, 2016, from 1.56 million people Dec. 26, 2015.

The number of selectors in Texas increased to 1.119 million, from 1.097 million.

The HealthCare.gov state with the most difficulty attracting exchange plan issuers was Arizona. There, signup activity increased 8.3 percent between Dec. 26, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2016, to 181,881, from 169,110. 

Related:

Obama administration adjusts ACA exchange program for 2018

Covered California faces post-election questions

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