Commentary Magazine


Topic: state exchanges

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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State OCare “Glitches” May Doom Dems

The word “glitch” hasn’t been heard lately from Democrats. After months of pretending the problems with ObamaCare could be dismissed as mere glitches on an otherwise perfectly functional website, the party has lately adopted a stance in which the president’s signature health-care legislation is considered to have transcended its rough rollout. The president’s State of the Union address not only glossed over the disastrous start to the law’s implementation but also, in another now familiar Democratic meme, treated the debate about the issue as finished. But unfortunately for his party, the latest batch of ObamaCare problems may serve not only to revive the discussion about the wisdom of the law but also severely damage the electoral prospects of Democrats whose names are, unlike that of the president, on the ballot this November.

As the New York Times reports today, a new series of what it describes as “glitches” are creating difficulties not only for the implementation of a law that has already faced severe challenges but also an issue that could determine the outcome of some state races in what otherwise might be considered blue states. As the Times notes:

Republicans have seized on the failures of homegrown exchanges in states like Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon — all plagued by technological problems that have kept customers unhappy and enrollment goals unmet — and promise to use the issue against Democratic candidates for governor and legislative seats this fall.

Anger over ObamaCare and the incompetent manner with which state exchanges—which Democrats said would be the great success story of the misnamed Affordable Care Act—are failing customers in Maryland or Oregon but may not be enough to disillusion enough blue state voters to win those states for the GOP. But, as the Times concedes, the problems may be enough to help tip gubernatorial and legislative races in Minnesota into the Republican column. Though Democrats seem to be in a state of denial about public unhappiness about a law that most Americans never wanted in the first place, the issue continues to simmer on both the national and local levels.

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The word “glitch” hasn’t been heard lately from Democrats. After months of pretending the problems with ObamaCare could be dismissed as mere glitches on an otherwise perfectly functional website, the party has lately adopted a stance in which the president’s signature health-care legislation is considered to have transcended its rough rollout. The president’s State of the Union address not only glossed over the disastrous start to the law’s implementation but also, in another now familiar Democratic meme, treated the debate about the issue as finished. But unfortunately for his party, the latest batch of ObamaCare problems may serve not only to revive the discussion about the wisdom of the law but also severely damage the electoral prospects of Democrats whose names are, unlike that of the president, on the ballot this November.

As the New York Times reports today, a new series of what it describes as “glitches” are creating difficulties not only for the implementation of a law that has already faced severe challenges but also an issue that could determine the outcome of some state races in what otherwise might be considered blue states. As the Times notes:

Republicans have seized on the failures of homegrown exchanges in states like Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon — all plagued by technological problems that have kept customers unhappy and enrollment goals unmet — and promise to use the issue against Democratic candidates for governor and legislative seats this fall.

Anger over ObamaCare and the incompetent manner with which state exchanges—which Democrats said would be the great success story of the misnamed Affordable Care Act—are failing customers in Maryland or Oregon but may not be enough to disillusion enough blue state voters to win those states for the GOP. But, as the Times concedes, the problems may be enough to help tip gubernatorial and legislative races in Minnesota into the Republican column. Though Democrats seem to be in a state of denial about public unhappiness about a law that most Americans never wanted in the first place, the issue continues to simmer on both the national and local levels.

Like President Obama, Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton believes he can overcome the outrage caused by the failures of the state ObamaCare exchange he has championed. But the MNsure program is plagued by software defects and is still dysfunctional, making it unlikely that enough people will be enrolled in Minnesota to make the plan fiscally sound. Just as Obama did when the federal Heatlhcare.gov website wasn’t working, Dayton is taking “responsibility” for the problem while also try to deflect blame for the fiasco on everyone else. Though he entered this election cycle as a big favorite to win reelection, the state exchange problem has handed Republicans an issue that could change the dynamic of the race as well as affecting state legislative contests.

In response, Dayton has been reading from the president’s playbook, citing those who are being helped by ObamaCare while not acknowledging the large pool of citizens who have lost the policies they were told they could keep and are facing higher premiums and coverage that doesn’t suit their needs. His assumption is that referring to the mess at the exchange as a “glitch” will be enough to get a pass on an issue that, like the president, he would like to ignore in 2014.

But Dayton and Obama—and Congressional Democrats who are saddled with the problem of running this year—all seem to be ignoring the fact that the problem with the health-care law transcends computer glitches. In Minnesota, as well as elsewhere, ObamaCare has benefitted those with pre-existing conditions and the poor who are now getting insurance they might not have obtained without it. But it has also created a new interest group that may turn out to be just as large, if not larger, than the ObamaCare winners: the ObamaCare losers. These are the people who are losing their policies, being forced to change doctors, and facing higher costs for coverage that—contrary to the Democratic talking point about ObamaCare canceling only “junk” insurance—isn’t as good as what they had before. As more Americans, including those whose employer-based plans are being affected by the altered insurance environment created by ObamaCare, face similar problems, the number in the “loser” group is increasing. That creates an unhealthy political climate for Democrats at every level who bet their careers on the law but who now wish only to change the subject to a discussion about income inequality or anything they hope will divert the public from ObamaCare.

Moving on from discussing ObamaCare makes sense to a Democratic Party that understands it is saddled with sole responsibility for a measure that is causing economic pain that may well offset any good it has done. But the problematic state exchanges are just one more reason they won’t be able to duck, hide and change the subject.

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