November 6 2013

ObamaCare Report Card: Due Next Week

Patrice J. Lee

What we’ve been awaiting over the past month is—finally—expected to come next week. The Administration says it will release ObamaCare enrollment data. Don’t get excited yet. Just what data we’ll receive is another question. We can only hope that we get the unvarnished truth.

After weeks of conflicting reports from Administration officials who have said they don’t know how many people have enrolled and who have disputed any leaked numbers reported in the press, Marilyn Tavenner, who heads the Center for Medicare & Medicaid, said in a congressional hearing yesterday that she is committed to releasing ObamaCare enrollment numbers.

The Hill reports:

The Obama administration said it will publish Affordable Care Act enrollment data next week, but has repeatedly refused to disclose which figures it plans to release.

The silence from federal health officials raises the possibility that they will release a single sign-up number that fails to shed light on how the enrollment effort is really proceeding.

A foggy, imprecise data release would signal a continued effort by the administration to control the flow of details about the healthcare law in the face of an unfriendly news cycle.

“There is a political battle underway and information is one of the weapons,” said Steven Aftergood, an advocate for government transparency with the Federation of American Scientists. “They are not interested in public exposure that could be politically disadvantageous in the short term.”

The much-anticipated report will follow six weeks of pressure from media organizations and political opponents hoping to learn the enrollment numbers.

Next week’s release will provide the first clear gauge of interest in ObamaCare coverage and point to whether the site’s problems are creating a drag on enrollment.

 

What we’ve learned so far is that there have been more than 700,000 applications. Just how many of those resulted in enrollment? According to internal documents that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) got his hands on, the numbers have been woefully small: six enrollments on the morning of Oct. 2; 100 by that afternoon; and 248 on the morning of Oct. 3.

A bigger problem for the exchanges and the success of the ObamaCare system is just who is enrolling and what kind of coverage they are seeking (private exchanges versus Medicaid). Early adopters are –not surprisingly –older and sicker Americans. Whether they are enrolling in private options versus seeking Medicaid varies across states.

Here’s why it matters:

A single sign-up figure would iron over these distinctions, encompassing not only Medicaid and marketplace enrollments but people buying coverage in states and through HealthCare.gov.

Asked Tuesday whether the Health agency would provide a detailed breakdown, Medicare and Medicaid spokeswoman Julie Bataille ducked the question.

The exchange-versus-Medicaid division is just one of many details vital to understanding the progress of the sign-up effort.

Timothy Jost, a leading healthcare academic and supporter of the Affordable Care Act, said demographic details are necessary to gain a sense of the evolving risk pools.

Some insurers have reported that the initial wave of enrollees appears to be closer to retirement age.

“People who are most likely to be enrolling at this point are older and sicker and higher cost,” Jost said.

The Administration is scrambling to patch up what is more than just a shoddy sign-up website, but a system that is intrinsically flawed. To make the system work, the President and ObamaCare supporters know they can’t fill up the healthcare pool with elderly Americans who will draw more in services than they pay in (especially if they qualify for government subsidies).

Like vampires need fresh blood, ObamaCare needs young, healthy people to sign up. Over the next few months leading up to the March 31st enrollment deadline we can expect a heavy PR and outreach push by surrogate groups to lure young people into the system using any means. We’ll see more lousy YouTube videos, advertisements with Babe the Blue Ox, and celebrities like Scarlett Johansson, Lady Gaga, John Legend and Kerry Washington pounding the pavement via robocalls and Twitter.

Let’s hope efforts to educate young people that they can and should opt out of ObamaCare (#optout) will rescue them from the clutches of the real blood sucker: ObamaCare.

 

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