Montana saw another dip in people signing up for health care plans through the federal exchange.

About 43,800 Montanans enrolled in the plans, according to a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid report released Wednesday. That’s roughly 1,550 fewer than last year.

The individual market plans are there for people who don’t get insurance through a job or government program like Medicare or Medicaid.

This year’s enrollment dip follows years of decline since the exchange’s peak in Montana with 58,114 people enrolled in 2016.

It also comes after a first since the exchange went in place: All three of Montana’s health insurers on the exchange offered less expensive premiums for individual plans. That was largely thanks to a new state law aimed at stabilizing the market.

Jeremy Johnson, a political scientist at Carroll College, said the price drop had the biggest impact on Montanans who weren’t already receiving a subsidy for coverage. That impacts a small portion of people buying the plans.

Johnson said there are a few factors for the downward trend.

“One is the Trump Administration has not been favorable towards supporting the individual market,” he said.

The individual market is a result of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, which President Donald Trump has long railed against.

In 2017, the federal government cut the time to shop for a plan to six weeks — half of what it had been.

The same year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced it would cut marketplace advertising from $100 million to about $10 million. The centers also reduced navigator grants nearly in half. Navigators are meant to help people disproportionately without access to coverage or care know their options.

The latest change came when the Trump Administration repealed a fine people faced if they weren’t insured. Part of the goal of that repeal was to cause the national health care law to falter.

But economist Bryce Ward, with the University of Montana and ABMJ Consulting, said that wasn’t likely the force behind Montana’s drop.

“The mandate was never that effective but it did have an effect. There were a few percentage points of people who appeared to be responsive,” he said.

Ward said the drop in enrollees this year is small enough compared to the state’s population that part of it could stem from people forgetting to sign up.

“Down 1,500 is very consistent with the fact that we’re not pushing [enrollment] the way we once were,” Ward said.

Johnson said among all the potential factors titling Montana’s numbers, one long-time issue remains.

“For everybody, health insurance is very expensive,” he said.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 582-2628.

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