CoveredCA2018-1_1350

To promote open enrollment, Covered California has launched a 16-city, 23-stop bus tour, which kicked off in Sacramento on Thursday. The sign-up period ends Jan. 15. (Ana B. Ibarra/California Healthline)

The number of new enrollees in Covered California plans plunged by nearly a quarter this year, largely because of the elimination of the tax penalty for people without insurance, officials announced Wednesday.

The decrease was steeper than expected — and larger than the drop in new enrollment in the federal marketplace, healthcare.gov. It occurred even as Covered California, the state health insurance exchange, spent millions on advertising to entice people to sign up for coverage during the open-enrollment period that ended Jan. 15.

Overall, more than 1.5 million Californians selected a health plan for 2019 coverage, a figure similar to last year, the agency said. But new enrollment fell by 23.7 percent, with 295,980 sign-ups compared with 388,344 last year. Meanwhile, plan renewals remained strong, and posted a 7.5 percent increase.

“Recent actions at the federal level appear to be causing large drops in enrollment that will lead to more uninsured and higher premiums for all Californians,” said Covered California executive director Peter Lee.

“The federal removal of the individual mandate penalty appears to have had a substantial impact on the number of new consumers signing up for coverage,” he said.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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