Enrollment Numbers Falling

The ObamaCare enrollment numbers just keep falling. At the end of the last open enrollment period on March 31st, the administration announced 7.1 million Americans “signed-up” for ObamaCare. This number was all too conveniently exactly what they needed to claim victory after the disastrous rollout of the government website Healthcare.gov. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had been saying for months that they needed 7 million to enroll to call it a success.

Shortly thereafter they bragged that the number was now 8 million. Some of the liberal media, like The Los Angeles Times, actually gave them credit for as many as 9.5 newly enrolled. But since this period of optimism in April, the numbers have been steadily declining.

Even the White House is now adjusting their numbers downward. As of September 19, they reduced their ObamaCare enrollment number to 7.3 million. Naturally, they did not release any details regarding the breakdown of this number. The number was described in a Politico article thus:

“The figure is complex to unravel. The number came from the health insurers, who told the Obama administration every month how many people are covered by Affordable Care Act plans. A CMS official said Thursday that in prior monthly reports, the numbers varied widely, but recently stabilized.”

Insurance industry expert Robert Laszewski analyzed this recent statement with the following comments:

“So this tells us a couple of things:

  1. The carriers have been reporting the number of people they have been insuring in the exchanges to the Obama administration for months.
  2. The monthly enrollment numbers have “varied widely.”

Up until now, the administration has repeatedly said they didn’t have the enrollment numbers. Why haven’t they released these monthly reports on an ongoing basis? Why can’t we see all of the prior reports?”

The 7.3 million-enrollment number would seem to suggest only a 9% attrition factor when most carriers have been reporting that about 15% haven’t paid just the first premium. Even with the lack of transparency about just what these numbers mean, I can find at least one obvious problem with them.

 As I thought of the administration’s release of 7.3 million it occurred to me that they said the 7.3 million included all enrollments through mid-August. Under ObamaCare, after a person has paid their first premium, a health plan can’t cancel anyone until they have gone three months without making a payment. So, they are effectively double counting by including the “adds’ while also keeping the “deletes”.

The 7.3 million figure includes all of the enrollments that have occurred through mid-August. But the number also still includes every person who has failed to make a premium payment in June, July, and August – since the carriers can’t yet knock them off the rolls. The health plans tell me there is a 2% to 4% monthly attrition rate. That means the 7.3 million could be overstated by 6 to 12% of the total.”

So even when the White House is trying to give us more reasonable enrollment numbers, they still fudge them. If Laszewski is correct, the real numbers, even using the White House figure, is somewhere between 6 % lower, or 6.8 million, or even 12% lower, or 6.4 million.

Insurance Industry Figures

Now come the numbers from the insurance industry itself. John R. Graham, writing for The National Center for Policy Analysis refers to Amanda Kowalski of Yale University and the Brookings Institute, a liberal think-tank, who says the real number of newly covered people is 4.2 million above the pre-ObamaCare trend. This includes both on-exchange and off-exchange coverage. That’s far less than the 8 million the White House bragged about.

Jed Graham of Investors’ Business Daily has been following the health insurers’ filings and notes evidence that exchange enrollment is falling. Aetna, for example, had 720,000 exchange enrollees on May 20 but only 600,000 by the end of June. It expects a further drop to 500,000 by the end of the year. Cigna expects the number of enrollees in the individual market to drop from 300,000 in August to 280,000 soon.

There are a number of reasons to explain these falling enrollment numbers. First, many of these people failed to pay the first premium after signing up for the policy on the government website. Others made the first premium but failed to make the second. By law the insurance companies can’t drop these people for 90 days after failure to make the payment. But those people are now coming off the insurance rolls as their 90-day grace periods end. Look for more of these cancelled policies and declining numbers in the future.

Second, many people have failed to supply requested information to verify their family income or their immigration status. Graham reports about 115,000 will be dropped at the end of September for lack of citizenship or immigration status. Another 363,000 will have their subsidies reduced because they have not verified their incomes. As these people find their subsidies lowered, many will choose not to pay the higher premiums and will drop out.

Then there are the people who enrolled to make sure an existing medical problem was covered but then dropped the coverage when they got well. They can do that under ObamaCare because the insurance companies are required to accept all comers without regard to pre-existing medical conditions. These “gamers of the system” will just re-enroll the next time they get sick.

To make matters worse, the next open enrollment period begins November 15 and the government website glitches have still not been solved. The White House is encouraging people to let the government automatically renew their insurance policies on the exchanges, but this will lead to many people receiving too much or too little subsidy under the new policies. Insurance industry experts like Laszewski recommend everyone re-enroll on the exchanges to be sure you get the right policy at the right price.

At the end of the last open enrollment the White House claimed 7.1 million had benefited from ObamaCare enrollment. With those numbers steadily falling, you have to wonder how much benefit they really got for their money.


One comment

  1. I am not surprised.

    Comment by David godfrey on October 13, 2014 at 6:46 pm