A hard look at Obamacare's January enrollment numbers

The Department of Health and Human Services has released Obamacare's January enrollment numbers and, on the surface, they look to be barely adequate.

But as with everything in this administration, nothing is as it appears to be. The fanatical secrecy surrounding some of the Obamacare numbers - how many have actually paid their first month premium, how old are enrollees, to name two - makes you think that the same people in charge of securing our nuclear secrets are running the HHS Obamacare numbers shop.

Edward Snowden should have gone to work for CMS.

Daily Caller:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius touted the new Obamacare enrollment figures in a conference call Wednesday: 3.3 million Americans in exchanges by the end of January, still significantly less than original targets.

The Obama administration's initial enrollment goal through January was 4.4 million total; though two-thirds of the enrollment period has passed, the health exchanges have made it less than halfway to their enrollment goal of 7 million.

A total of 1.1 million people selected a plan on the exchanges in January, a decline from the 1.8 million that signed up on state and federal marketplaces in December. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spokeswoman Julie Bataille was unable to confirm the drop, but noted that the 1.1 million sign-ups just barely beat HHS's expected January enrollment of 1,059,900 -- the first time Obamacare' s hit an enrollment projection yet.

Though HHS was able to report one piece of good news, the numbers are still suspect. Officials refused to release key details about the numbers, including how many of the 3.3 million enrollees paid their premiums.

Now that the first month of available coverage has passed, any of the signups that failed to send their first premium  payment to their insurer are officially out of the system, but HHS refused to provide any details on paid vs. unpaid enrollees and did not adjust their enrollment numbers to reflect any such canceled enrollments from January.

The limited number of state reports available show that payment rates are surprisingly low across the country, especially in high-enrollment states such as California and New York.

Also overlooked by HHS officials was the percentage of enrollees that are previously uninsured. Though the administration said it was unable to release any information on prior coverage for exchange enrollees, CMS official Gary Cohen noted that some uninsured will be seeking coverage outside of the exchanges.

Jay Cost at the Weekly Standard breaks those numbers down even further and discovers that CMS is fudging the data a bit:

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that enrollment in the Obamacare private exchanges increased by 1,146,071 in January. In December, HHS reported 1,788,000 enrollees in the month of December. That suggests a drop-off of approximately 500,000, or 29 percent. (See the chart on page 5 here for a graphical representation).  

Yet this underestimates the true extent of enrollment dropoffs. The HHS reporting period for December was four weeks, beginning on 12/1 and ending on 12/28. The reporting period for January was five weeks, beginning on 12/29 and ending on 2/1. This suggests that in December, enrollments averaged 447,000 per week, compared to 229,000 in January, or a 49 percent drop-off in new enrollees.

It is clear by now that the administration will not reach the original CBO estimate of 7 million enrollees by the deadline at the end of March. The real question is: how far short will they fall? If February's enrollment rate matches that of January, the Administration will be able to claim 916,000 more enrollees in the current reporting period, for a grand total of about 4.2 million. That is 60% of the initial CBO estimate with a month to go before the end of open enrollment. On the other hand, it is hard to tell whether matching the pace set in January is reasonable for February. Notably, Kathleen Sebelius announced on January 24 that HHS had reached 800,000 enrollees already for the month, suggesting that the rate in the final two weeks of the month was lower than the rate in the first three weeks.

One thing is for sure: the total enrollment of 3.3 million reported by HHS is an overestimate. At this point, industry insiders estimate that about 20% of people whom HHS claims are enrollees have not paid their premiums. Meanwhile, hard data from a handful of states suggests that the number of non-payees may be larger. If the insiders are right, then the real level of enrollment right now is just 2.6 million, which puts the administration at just 38 percent of the original target with two-thirds of the enrollment period now finished.

All of this probably doesn't matter. President Obama has demonstrated that he doesn't care about statutory deadlines or what the law says. He will extend enrollment periods, and make any tweak to the law he wants in order to keep it viable. Failing that, he will find someone else to blame - insurance companies, Republicans, big business - whatever he feels it takes to keep Obamacare above water while avoiding a catastrophe for Democrats in November.

Obama's overreach on Obamacare is beginning to cost him among some of his liberal allies, but not enough that he should be worrying. Most of the left is still supporting him lock, stock, and both barrels. The left has convinced itself that it has finessed the devastating CBO report and that the enrollment news only means that Obamacare is becoming more firmly entrenched and will be impossible to repeal without massive dislocations in the insurance market.

The administration will keep stonewalling any bad news about enrollments. It's worked so far, why not continue it?

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky


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