Nothing to Show for Obamacare
For all its costs, very few Americans have gained coverage thanks to the law.


Michael Tanner

As Obamacare stumbles into its first full year of implementation, it leaves behind it a trail of broken promises. There was, of course, the promise that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” There was the equally emphatic “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” And let’s not forget the president’s promise that health-care reform would “bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family.”

Now it appears another Obamacare promise is falling by the wayside: universal coverage.

From the beginning President Obama claimed that health-care reform “should mean that all Americans could get coverage.” And as recently as last November, the president was telling supporters that Obamacare had made “universal health care” a reality.

Of course, the actual reality was that Obamacare was never going to cover everyone. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that by 2023, Obamacare would still leave some 31 million Americans uninsured. That’s more people with insurance than we have today, no doubt, but far from universal coverage.

But now, the most recent enrollment data suggests that the health-care reform law will fall far short of even that modest achievement.

According to the administration, roughly 2.2 million people have signed up for health insurance through the program so far. An additional 3.9 million people have been enrolled in Medicaid. With 50 to 60 million uninsured Americans, by the most generous reading of the administration’s own numbers, Obamacare has at most covered 11 percent of the uninsured so far. Not a lot of bang for the buck.

But let’s look more closely at those numbers. First, the administration’s claim that 2.2 million Americans signed up for insurance includes all those who have picked an insurance plan, even if they haven’t yet paid for it. This is sort of like Amazon’s counting as a sale everything someone puts in his “shopping cart.” So far, between 66 and 70 percent of enrollees have probably actually paid their first month’s premium. Looking at fully paid enrollment thus cuts the private-insurance number down to roughly 1.55 million.

But wait: It also appears that most of those Obamacare enrollees were not previously uninsured. A survey by the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that just 11 percent of those purchasing insurance under Obamacare didn’t have coverage beforehand. Some were among the 5 to 10 million people who had their plans canceled because they didn’t meet Obamacare’s standards — meaning they were simply forced to purchase new, often more expensive, plans. Others were dumped from their employer coverage because Obamacare was driving up premiums. Of course, some previously insured people are happy to buy exchange plans, because taxpayer-funded subsidies made them a cheaper option.

If the McKinsey estimates hold true, it would mean that as few as 170,000 previously uninsured people had enrolled and paid for insurance under Obamacare.