START OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD

Time: D H M S

REMINDER: The Week Three HC.gov "Snapshot" will likely be 500K QHPs...

...and various reporters will breathlessly report about how this is 20% lower than the same third week during last year's Open Enrollment Period, and OMG THIS MEANS OBAMACARE IS FAILING!!!

Yep, it's true: Last year, during the third week of Open Enrollment, 618,548 people selected QHPs via the federal exchange (HealthCare.Gov). This year, I'm pretty sure that right around 500,000 people selected QHPs during the third week.

However, here's what you have to keep in mind: The first week was 17% higher this year than last (543K vs. 462K). The second week was a whopping 77% higher than last year! (535K vs. 303K).

Why the massive discrepancies? Simple: The calendar. Last year, Open Enrollment started on November 15th. The second week was also Thanksgiving week, which meant that enrollments dropped off to practically zilch for that Thursday and Friday.

This year, Open Enrollment started 2 weeks earlier, on November 1st. That means two important differences:

First, the holiday weeks aren't going to match up. Last year, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's fell during the 2nd, 6th and 7th weeks of Open Enrollment. This year they'll fall on the 4th, 8th and 9th weeks. That means that there would be huge swings higher & lower from week to week even if the total final enrollment number was exactly the same in the end (although I'm obviously projecting/hoping it'll be at least 25% higher in the end).

Secondly, the deadlines have not changed for the most part. 12/15 is still the cut-off for January coverage in most states, with 4 states bumping this out to 12/23. For February coverage, the cut-off is either 1/15 or 1/23. After that (from either 1/16 or 1/24 until 1/31), coverage doesn't start until March. However, OE3 also ends 2 weeks sooner than OE2 did (1/31 vs. 2/15).

As a result of all of this, the 2016 Open Enrollment numbers likely will not match up with the 2015 Open Enrollment numbers whatsoever on a week-to-week basis, whether higher or lower.

Remember that when you see an article like this one about the First Week numbers at the Motley Fool:

On the surface, 540,000 sign-ups doesn't sound like a lot. For a program that only gives consumers 13 weeks to enroll, that would suggest it's only on pace for an extrapolated 7 million enrollees. But here's the shocker: The first week of open enrollment last year (Nov. 15-Nov. 21) yielded only 462,125 plan selections and 1.03 million applications submitted. In other words, the number of plan selections in the first week jumped by 17%, and application submissions rose by nearly 12%.

I wouldn't be surprised to see some stories going absolutely apeshit over the second weekly numbers (76% higher!! Yowza!!)...completely forgetting the "Thanksgiving Week" factor.

Of course, the reverse will be true this week (Week Four), when I expect only around 330,000 QHPs to be selected via HC.gov vs. last year's 1.08 million (OMG!! 70% DROP OFF!!), especially since last year, Week Four also ran right up against the 12/15 deadline surge.

In any event, here's my official week-by-week projections for HealthCare.Gov only for the 2016 Open Enrollment period. Note that I will modify these as appropriate throughout the process, but these are my initial estimates. I've also included the 2015 Open Enrollment period for comparison: