Obamacare’s Enrollment Cliff
At some point, the White House has to admit its enrollment numbers are inflated.


‘We may not get to 7 million, but if we get to 5 or 6 million that’s a hell of a start,” Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday when asked about whether enrollments in the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges would hit the White House’s goal of 7 million by the end of March.

But Biden’s windy expectations management may not be enough to prepare the country for Obamacare’s disappointing enrollment numbers.

A politically toxic “Obamacare enrollment crash,” National Journal argues, will become clear once the White House’s count of “enrollments” is adjusted to consider how many people have actually enrolled in private health insurance plans — a number that will be significantly lower than the White House has been claiming.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that by the end of January, 3.3 million people had signed up for private plans on state and federal health-insurance exchanges — when the White House had hoped for 7 million by the end of March.

But that 3.3 million number counts people who have entered their information, seen what options they have, and selected a plan. They don’t have to have committed to buy it or paid their first premium to insurance companies.

How many of the 3.3 million “enrollees” have done that? Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent, probably. California says 75 percent of its 828,000 enrollees have paid their premiums. The federal government has promised it will release data soon about enrollees through the federal exchange, which is used in 34 states.

That would mean the exchanges have seen about 2.5 million actual enrollments, not 3.3 million. The exchanges beat their January enrollment target, but in terms of fake or real enrollments, HHS is far off the projections it made last fall, which had 4.4 million enrollees — as in 4.4 million people who’d paid their premiums — by the end of January.

Is there any way to avoid cable-news chyrons about the “Obamacare crash”?​ The admission of how many people have actually gotten shiny new insurance cards out of the ACA certainly can’t be put off until November.​ One possibility: If they think they’ll get a surge in enrollments in March (HHS didn’t project one), they can announce the final tally of paid enrollments and it might not be lower than the number of broadly defined enrollments that they’ll announce toward the end of February. Barring a boost like that, presumably the White House finds some way to downplay the disconnect, but the admission should still provide some political fodder for Republicans.