The Corner

October Surprise? 106,000 Enrolled in Obamacare, 27,000 through

Just under 27,000 people enrolled in insurance via the federal health exchange through November 2, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today. Combined with 79,391 enrollees from states running their own exchanges, 106,185 total people have enrolled in exchange plans.

HHS defines enrollees as people who have submitted their information for and picked a health-care plan for which they’re eligible; they don’t have to have committed to buy the plan or paid the first premium (the point at which health-insurance companies typically define someone as enrolled).

When asked by a reporter on a conference call today whether HHS has numbers on the number of paid customers, Sebelius demurred, saying that the numbers provided were the “best” possible, and arguing that customers may not plan to make their payments until they have to, in December. At that point, she said, data on the number of purchased plans will be available. Overall, 1.08 million people have been deemed eligible to buy plans through the state exchanges or the federal marketplace, and about 10 percent of them have picked a plan.

Sebelius noted (as HHS did on the first page of today’s release) that this puts them ahead of the rate of enrollments seen in Massachusetts after the first month, when a similar law debuted in that state. This comparison, which HHS officials repeated a number of times, isn’t quite a fair comparison for a number of reasons: Massachusetts’s open enrollment period lasted for eleven months before the individual mandate kicked in, and thousands of previously uninsured Massachusetts residents were automatically enrolled in the plans immediately.

The White House had set a target of about 500,000 enrollments for the federal exchange in the first month, meaning they hit about 5.5 percent of their goal. The Congressional Budget Office had projected that functional marketplaces should attract about 7 million customers by the end of 2014 (open enrollment ends March 31, meaning almost everyone will have to purchase plans by then). Thus, in the law’s first month, the White House has enrolled about 1.4 percent of the people the CBO expected to enroll in the law’s first year. 

On the federal and state exchanges, 396,261 people have been determined eligible for Medicaid and will be enrolled in the free insurance plan on January 1 — in other words, 80 percent of the people the White House deems to have gained insurance so far will be getting it through Medicaid. In fact, 120,000 of that number have been determined eligible in states not expanding Medicaid, states will carry as much as 40 percent of the cost of these new enrollees.

Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that the troubled federal website should be working for “the vast majority of users” by the end of November, the same date the administration has promised. She explained that the error rate for the site has currently dropped to 1 percent.

Sebelius emphasized that the level of visits to the websites and phone calls to the marketplace indicates a high level of interest in the government insurance market, despite the low numbers of enrollments. “We can reasonably expect that these numbers will grow substantially” throughout the open enrollment period, Sebelius said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney had played down expectations throughout this week, saying today, “No one will be satisfied with the numbers because they will be below what we sought.” The number reported today for the federal exchange is actually worse than a number leaked to the Wall Street Journal Tuesday.

HHS’s website hosting the enrollment report actually crashed briefly after the announcement came out — you can read the document hereAbout 850,000 individuals have completed applications for insurance on the federal and state exchanges, which covers about 1.5 million individuals (counting family plans).

Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.


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