Commentary Magazine


Topic: ObamaCare enrollment

Deadline Is ObamaCare’s “Mission Accomplished” Moment

It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

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It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

It should be acknowledged that the pictures of people standing on line waiting to talk about getting ObamaCare and the reports of large numbers visiting the website or trying to call in to get the insurance sounds like a vindication of the law or at least of the all-out enrollment push being conducted by the president and the rest of his administration. But the fact remains that merely signing onto the website and creating an account is not the same thing as actually buying the product. If by the end of the day, the administration is claiming that they have met or come close to the seven million enrollments it wanted, it must be remembered that this number must be reduced by at least 20 percent to account for the vast numbers who haven’t completed the purchase and may never do so.

Just as deceptive is the fact that among the millions being counted as happy ObamaCare customers are a huge number of Americans who already had health insurance they liked but lost it as a result of the passage of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. They are now stuck with coverage that is likely more expensive and which contains provisions they didn’t want. As a New York Times front-page feature that was, no doubt, intended to tout the law’s benefits in Kentucky—a rare example where a state exchange appears to be working well—illustrated, administration triumphalism has little connection to the reality faced by many of those affected by the president’s signature health-care law. Including those Americans who are the big losers in the passage of this law as being part of the supposed flood of those who need and want ObamaCare is the ultimate in double counting.

No matter what the numbers of those enrolled actually turn out to be, without millions more young and healthy Americans included in the plan, it will be a financial disaster and force the government to bail out the insurance companies. That will be unfortunate. But if those more profitable young and healthy customers don’t listen to the president’s pleas, who can blame them? The product that is being shoved down their throats is inferior, costly, and a bad deal to boot. With pre-existing conditions no longer a bar to insurance coverage there is no longer much reason for those who are less likely to get sick to enroll before they are placed in the position of needing insurance. And with much of the plan’s provisions being postponed or otherwise delayed in order to lessen the pain to the nation and increase the Democrats’ chances of success in November, there is no way of knowing just how unpopular this law will be when all is said and done.

It is entirely possible that we will look back on today’s deadline and administration celebrations about enrollment as Obama’s version of George W. Bush’s infamous “mission accomplished” moment after Iraq. Democrats who dream that today’s numbers will get them off the hook in the midterms should think again.

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March Madness? Fake ObamaCare Enrollment Numbers.

The administration is claiming a limited victory by saying the number of those enrolled in ObamaCare has now hit 5 million with two weeks to go until the March 31 deadline. If accurate, the number does represent a steep increase over the 4.2 million that were said to have signed up at the beginning of the month. At this rate, administration cheerleaders reason, the goal of 7 million enrolled in the Affordable Care Act may yet be reached at some point in the near future, if not quite on time. This burst of enrollments is seen as a vindication of President Obama’s all-out push to promote the law including such questionable activities as appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web show where he traded barbs with comedian Zach Galifianakis.

But before the president and his team start popping the champagne corks to celebrate their achievement and their faux hipness, it’s time once again to point out that the administration’s Potemkin enrollment figures should be read with a truckload of salt. As the New York Times reported last month, as much as 20 percent of all those enrolled had not actually paid their premiums, meaning they were not covered by the program. While Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told Congress she had no idea what the numbers of unpaid enrollees were, more states are reporting these figures and, as CNBC reported last week, the results are literally all over the map. While some states report high pay rates, others like Maryland say only 54 percent have paid.

All this calls in to question not only the effectiveness of the sales job done by the president and celebrity supporters such as Lebron James. It also means that the odds that this system can sustain itself without mandating vast increases in rates for those who do pay are getting slimmer every day.

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The administration is claiming a limited victory by saying the number of those enrolled in ObamaCare has now hit 5 million with two weeks to go until the March 31 deadline. If accurate, the number does represent a steep increase over the 4.2 million that were said to have signed up at the beginning of the month. At this rate, administration cheerleaders reason, the goal of 7 million enrolled in the Affordable Care Act may yet be reached at some point in the near future, if not quite on time. This burst of enrollments is seen as a vindication of President Obama’s all-out push to promote the law including such questionable activities as appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web show where he traded barbs with comedian Zach Galifianakis.

But before the president and his team start popping the champagne corks to celebrate their achievement and their faux hipness, it’s time once again to point out that the administration’s Potemkin enrollment figures should be read with a truckload of salt. As the New York Times reported last month, as much as 20 percent of all those enrolled had not actually paid their premiums, meaning they were not covered by the program. While Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told Congress she had no idea what the numbers of unpaid enrollees were, more states are reporting these figures and, as CNBC reported last week, the results are literally all over the map. While some states report high pay rates, others like Maryland say only 54 percent have paid.

All this calls in to question not only the effectiveness of the sales job done by the president and celebrity supporters such as Lebron James. It also means that the odds that this system can sustain itself without mandating vast increases in rates for those who do pay are getting slimmer every day.

For months we’ve been told by the administration that the only problem with ObamaCare was a “glitchy” website that had since been fixed. But what has since become clear is that the effort to convince young and healthy Americans to sign up for insurance that is both expensive and not something they may need is a failure. Though many of those who clearly benefit from the new health law, such as the poor and those with pre-existing conditions, have signed up, the scheme requires large numbers of those who won’t need the coverage as often in order to be economically viable. That problem will be exacerbated by the failure of much larger percentages of customers to pay for their insurance.

As we’ve noted previously, the non-payment of the premium is not a technicality. Many of those purchasing the insurance may be first-time buyers and not understand that they must pay their bill before coverage starts rather than long after the fact, as they can with a credit card transaction. Or it may be that some enrolled with no intention of paying or thinking that the hype about the glories of ObamaCare they’ve heard in the mainstream media and from the president absolved them of the obligation to pay for it. But either way, the large number of non-payments renders the enrollment figures meaningless and ensures that the rates for those who do pay are going up next year by percentages that will shock them.

The president claimed that the number of enrollees has already reached the point where the law will work rather than collapse from lack of participation. But even if we accept his premise that falling millions of customers short of the announced goal of seven million is no big deal, the fact that hundreds of thousands of those being counted in the pool of those he’s counting are not covered because of non-payment of premiums makes his assertion a colossal fraud.

The president may think that a March madness ad blitz during the NCAA basketball tournament may save ObamaCare. But if the past pattern holds, any further surge in enrollment will provide the scheme with a false sense of security. Until we get a full accounting not only of those who signed up on a website but completed the process by paying for the plan they chose, we’ll have no idea how many people truly are enrolled. Seen in that light, the president’s enrollment promises may well turn out to be no different from other pledges he has made about the ACA in the last few years: completely untrue.

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ObamaCare’s Potemkin Enrollment Figures

Yesterday, mainstream media outlets were trumpeting some good news about President Obama’s embattled signature health-care legislation. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare in January. That was a marked increase over previous months when a dysfunctional website and widespread skepticism about the law kept enrollment numbers down. While the million new ObamaCare customers were not enough by themselves to offset the dramatic shortfall in the enrollment figures that calls into question the ability of the scheme to pay for itself, the White House and Democrats were encouraged by the fact that a large number of this total were made up of those aged 18-34, who are presumably healthy.

Until now most of those buying ObamaCare were either sick, elderly, or had pre-existing conditions that made it hard for them to purchase insurance. Without a lot more of these young “invincibles,” the plan will simply sink under the weight of an avalanche of red ink. The January figures were enough to pump some badly need confidence about ObamaCare into the political atmosphere, especially after another discouraging administration decision earlier this week to postpone the employer mandate until 2015.

But just one day after that news reassured Democrats that ObamaCare would survive despite all of its problems, today we learn about a new aspect of the enrollment figures that undermines that optimistic story line. As the New York Times reports, of the millions who had purchased ObamaCare prior to last month a staggering 20 percent did not pay their premiums. Though these people are still being counted among the total of those who are enrolled, they are, in fact, not covered and won’t be until the bill is paid, assuming that ever happens. That means the figures the administration has been proclaiming as good news are entirely fictional. Whatever the reason for the failure to pay, be it inability or a lack of intention ever to do so, this massive shortfall makes it clear that the ObamaCare enrollment numbers are Potemkin figures that say nothing about the actual total of those covered by a plan that is already desperately short of the people needed for it to function.

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Yesterday, mainstream media outlets were trumpeting some good news about President Obama’s embattled signature health-care legislation. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare in January. That was a marked increase over previous months when a dysfunctional website and widespread skepticism about the law kept enrollment numbers down. While the million new ObamaCare customers were not enough by themselves to offset the dramatic shortfall in the enrollment figures that calls into question the ability of the scheme to pay for itself, the White House and Democrats were encouraged by the fact that a large number of this total were made up of those aged 18-34, who are presumably healthy.

Until now most of those buying ObamaCare were either sick, elderly, or had pre-existing conditions that made it hard for them to purchase insurance. Without a lot more of these young “invincibles,” the plan will simply sink under the weight of an avalanche of red ink. The January figures were enough to pump some badly need confidence about ObamaCare into the political atmosphere, especially after another discouraging administration decision earlier this week to postpone the employer mandate until 2015.

But just one day after that news reassured Democrats that ObamaCare would survive despite all of its problems, today we learn about a new aspect of the enrollment figures that undermines that optimistic story line. As the New York Times reports, of the millions who had purchased ObamaCare prior to last month a staggering 20 percent did not pay their premiums. Though these people are still being counted among the total of those who are enrolled, they are, in fact, not covered and won’t be until the bill is paid, assuming that ever happens. That means the figures the administration has been proclaiming as good news are entirely fictional. Whatever the reason for the failure to pay, be it inability or a lack of intention ever to do so, this massive shortfall makes it clear that the ObamaCare enrollment numbers are Potemkin figures that say nothing about the actual total of those covered by a plan that is already desperately short of the people needed for it to function.

The news about the nonpayment of premiums is startling:

Paying the first month’s premium is the final step in completing an enrollment. Under federal rules, people must pay the initial premium to have coverage take effect. In view of the chaotic debut of the federal marketplace and many state exchanges, the White House urged insurers to give people more time, and many agreed to do so. But, insurers said, some people missed even the extended deadlines.

Lindy Wagner, a spokeswoman for Blue Shield of California said that 80 percent of the people who signed up for its plans had paid by the company’s due date, Jan. 15. Blue Shield has about 30 percent of the exchange market in the state.

Matthew N. Wiggin, a spokesman for Aetna, said that about 70 percent of people who signed up for its health plans paid their premiums. For Aetna policies taking effect on Jan. 1, the deadline for payment was Jan. 14, and for products sold by Coventry Health Care, which is now part of Aetna, the deadline was Jan. 17.

Mark T. Bertolini, the chief executive of Aetna, said last week that the company had 135,000 “paid members,” out of 200,000 who began to enroll through the exchanges.

As we noted earlier this month, many of the state exchanges are having problems relating to dysfunctional websites or bad management. The result is chaos around the nation that undermines the happy talk emanating from the White House about the million new ObamaCare customers last month.

The question about nonpayment is not a technicality. Many of those purchasing the insurance may be first-time buyers and not understand that they must pay their bill before coverage starts rather than long after the fact, as they can with a credit card transaction. Or it may be that some enrolled with no intention of paying or thinking that the hype about the glories of ObamaCare they’ve heard in the mainstream media and from the president absolved them of the obligation to pay for it. But either way, the large number of non-payments renders the enrollment figures broadcast this week utterly meaningless.

We won’t know for months how many people are actually taking part in the problem, or whether they amount to anything close the figure needed for it to be fiscally solvent. Unless more young and healthy consumers buy into the plan, the massive wealth transfer envisioned by the law simply won’t take place. If so, the government will be forced to step in to save the health-care scheme with a bailout that will amount to a vast increase in the already staggering figures needed to pay for entitlements. Combined with the fact that the administration is seeking to postpone the most painful aspects of the law until after the midterm elections this fall, the long-term outlook for the law remains bleak. But whether it recovers from these blows or not, today’s news should inspire even more skepticism about ObamaCare in a public that never supported it in the first place.

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