Enrollment for 2018 health insurance through the Affordable Care Act ends Friday for most people nationwide but Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey will get two extra weeks to sign up.

People in Houston as well as wide swaths of storm-affected areas in Texas will be able to enroll for exchange plans through Dec. 31, but advocates caution applying after Friday can be cumbersome.

Those who want to take advantage of the storm-related extension after Friday can start the process through healthcare.gov but then must complete enrollment by calling 1-800-318-2596.

There is no proof of storm damage required to receive the extra enrollment time and, in fact, other Texas cities such as Austin and Dallas may also participate because many victims fled to those cities after Harvey.

As the clock ticked toward the midnight deadline on Friday for others, consumer interest was brisk despite -- or perhaps because of -- the length of enrollment had been cut in half.

As of Dec. 9, Texas enrollment  stood at 579, 688, significantly higher than the 449,094 from the same time last year, federal officials said.

But most insurers and consumer advocacy groups predict that final numbers for 2018 enrollment will fall far short of the previous year. Last year the enrollment period ran until the end of January and had a surge of last-minute sign-ups at the end, especially among the younger, healthier demographic who had procrastinated.

The Trump administration cut the enrollment period to just 45 days rather than 90 saying that it was more in line with enrollment in other insurance plans such as Medicare and employer-sponsored coverage. In addition, advertising for this year's enrollment was sliced by 90 percent and the number of people available to help people enroll was also cut.

In addition, some fear enrollment will be down as premium prices have risen considerably for the coming year, in part as insurers make up for the loss of a key federal subsidy that helped low income enrollees afford out-of-pocket costs for their health care. While that assistance remains in place, insurers have said they have no choice but to pass on the shortfall to consumers in the form of higher premiums.

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The fate of the mandate under the law known as Obamacare that most everyone be required to carry health insurance remains in doubt even as enrollment closes. Congress has attached the revocation of the so-called individual mandate to its pending tax plan.

Critics have alleged that taken in total this series of actions were designed to undercut the success of enrollment and cripple the law.

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Melissa McChesney, a Houston-based enrollment outreach coordinator for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the early enrollment numbers proves that Texans want coverage but she fears the uninsured rate will rise in the state that already leads the nation in those without insurance.

"It wasn't lack of enthusiasm, it was lack of time and of support from the administration," she said Friday.

Those who support the changes in the process and the dismantling of the individual mandate counter that the new rules offer not only cut the costs surrounding enrollment but also give relief to those who do not want coverage. Under the current law those who do not have insurance must pay a fine.

While much remains unknown it appears that even if Congress repeals the individual health insurance mandate, the fine would still be in effect for 2018.