Health insurance companies say the number of people who paid their Obamacare premiums will be higher than House Republicans implied.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee said last week that, based on information it received from insurers, only 67 percent of people who signed up for private coverage through Obamacare's exchanges had gone on to pay their first month's premium.
Conservatives have fixated on the number of unpaid premiums, arguing that the White House's statistics — 8 million people have selected a plan — are meaningless. Consumers aren't truly enrolled until they pay their first premium, so the number of paid enrollments is indeed a more accurate picture of how many people the law's exchanges are covering.
But this week, in written testimony to the same committee, insurers say the 67 percent figure was premature — and that they warned the committee not to draw sweeping conclusions from the information it requested.
Energy and Commerce's figure included people who signed up for coverage but whose first premium hadn't come due at the time of the committee's inquiry. And that's a lot of people.
Wellpoint, the largest insurer in the Obamacare exchanges, said the payment rate is closer to 90 percent among people who reached their first payment deadline. The company has given investors the same estimate.
Health Care Service Corp., which administers Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in several states, told the committee the same thing: Of plans that have reached their payment deadlines, about 80 percent to 90 percent are paid enrollments.
Energy and Commerce asked insurers for their total number of sign-ups and the total number of paid enrollments as of April 15. And that number was indeed around 70 percent, insurers said. But nearly 1 million people chose plans in April. Their first bill wasn't due yet on April 15, but Energy and Commerce went ahead and counted them as unpaid sign-ups.
The committee's 67 percent figure will remain true only if none of those people make their first payment. And that seems unlikely: Insurers said their 80 percent to 90 percent payment rate was consistent across all six months of the open-enrollment period.
Insurers said they noted the limits of the information when the committee requested it.
"As outlined in our prior submissions to the Subcommittee, these are dynamic figures and do not reflect final enrollment numbers, as some enrollees have not yet reached their payment," Aetna said in written testimony for a Wednesday hearing on the health care law and the insurance industry.
Aetna also said the number of paid enrollments, among plans where payment has come due, averaged "in the low- to mid-80 percent range."
Energy and Commerce investigators have asked insurance companies to provide updated information later this month.
If 80 to 90 percent end up paying their first premium, true enrollment will be around 6.4 million to 7.2 million — still more than the Congressional Budget Office expected for the law's first year, and far more than most experts thought possible after the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov.
The White House has criticized the Energy and Commerce report but has not released payment figures of its own, despite months of questions from the press. Officials say they won't have a reliable estimate until they finish building another part of the HealthCare.gov infrastructure.