On the eve of Saturday’s deadline to sign up for the Affordable Care Act’s open marketplace for 2019, local health officials are seeing a sharp decline in interest and enrollment in the program.

As of Thursday, the nine employees at the nonprofit Family Health Center who help determine eligibility for the ACA had received only 30 inquiries about enrolling, and only two had applied, said Clara Perez, the center’s state programs eligibility director.

This year was the slowest ACA enrollment period Perez has seen in the five years of the marketplace’s existence, she said. In the first year of the program, the center got a barrage of calls and applicants lining up, but interest had fallen off dramatically as of last year.

“From what I understand from my team, most of their clients decided not to sign up because it’s too much money,” Perez said.

A lack of affordable plans and local health providers may be one of the reasons for the decline, she said. The cheapest 2019 insurance plan available for her clients increased $500 a month on average, she said.

ACA program cuts backed by Congress and the Trump Administration shortened the time Americans have to enroll in a marketplace insurance plan and slashed the ACA’s advertising budget.

Compared to 2017, marketplace enrollment this year fell 20 percent, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported.

Thousands of McLennan County residents rely on the marketplace to provide vital access to health care.

The establishment of the ACA has been accompanied by a reduction in the local uninsured rate. Between 2006 and 2016, the number of uninsured people in McLennan County declined by 10 percent, according to Census data. While local enrollment in the marketplace has decreased in recent years, about 5,300 residents continue to rely on marketplace plans to provide essential health coverage.

Saturday is the final day to apply and select 2019 health insurance coverage through the ACA marketplace, available at healthcare.gov.

Individuals who lost health insurance coverage this year, or had a major life change such as getting married or having a baby, may be able to get health insurance coverage after Dec. 15 through a special enrollment period.

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