Why do conservatives continue to harp on Obamacare’s enrollment figures? Because the administration has placed such a heavy emphasis on them as a key metric of quantifying the law’s “success,” and some in the media have dutifully taken that cue, laboring to construct a “winning streak” narrative for Obamacare. In a post about the law’s stubborn unpopularity among the American people, a Washington Post analyst puzzled over how public polling has failed to reflect the supposedly positive developments of last month. Perhaps the reason is that people are suspicious of the White House’s numbers — which, even if they were accurate, fail to neutralize the core flaws of the law. The Obamacare defenders can’t proclaim ‘mission accomplished’ over bending the cost curve down, or reducing premiums, or honoring promises about preferred plans and doctors. They aren’t likely to brag over its effects on employment and economic growth either; nor will they talk much about its overall price tag, compared to the figure they waved around in 2010. Several polls have shown that for every one individual whose family has benefited from Obamacare, two say they’ve been negatively impacted. And the ranks of the aggrieved may swell as more cancellations, significant rate hikes, and access shock continues to take hold. That’s a dreadful track record for a law that was sold to the public as a veritable legislative panacea, blessedly free of trade-offs or losers. With that mirage razed, the White House is relying heavily on ostentatious back-slapping over eight! million! enrollments! as the dubious basis for declaring victory.
An elementary component of killing their buzz is determining how many of these so-called “enrollees” have completed the process by paying for their premiums. Insurers have publicly indicated that between 80 and 90 percent of Obamacare exchange enrollees are paid up. A report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee found that number to be far lower based on a questionnaire filled out by 160 participating insurers on the federal exchange, but those results were incomplete and flawed. There’s little doubt that the payment delinquency rate varies among states and carriers — with some reaching north of 90 percent, and others languishing in the 70 percent range and below. If we assume that the overall payment rate is in the neighborhood of 85 percent (which may be generous), the “eight million” figure falls to under seven million. Toss in the “many” duplicate enrollments, and it’s fairly clear that the White House fell short of its goal. It’s impossible to nail down the exact figures, of course, because the mechanisms for tabulating the statistics are still under construction. Of the insurance executives called to testify on the Hill last week, each one of them confirmed that Healthcare.gov is still lacking core operational components: