Another Obamacare Attack Goes Bust

Health insurers confirm that a House committee jumped the gun with incomplete enrollment data.

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is commonly called, passed in March 2010, went into effect Tuesday at 8am EST. Heavy Internet traffic and system problems plagued the launch of the new health insurance exchanges Tuesday morning. Consumers attempting to log on were met with an error message early Tuesday due to an overload of Internet traffic. 
National Journal
Sam Baker
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Sam Baker
May 7, 2014, 1 a.m.

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.

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