March 31 2014
Midnight tonight used to be the deadline for signing up for ObamaCare, though, of course, the deadline has been extended.
Don’t rule out another extension if enrollment figures, when and if the administration shares a breakdown with the public, aren’t numbers with which the administration can live.
As of now, administration officials are bragging that the number of sign-ups has reached 6 million, a mere million below the original target. Thus we are entering a new phase: the administration proclaims victory but without providing the relevant details: we don’t know, for example, how many people have actually paid for a policy or if enrollment is skewed towards the poor and sick, who will not help keep the system solvent.
In an article on six “unanswered questions” about ObamaCare, Reason magazine’s Peter Suderman examines the numbers. I encourage you read the entire piece, but here are two unanswered questions:
What are the sign-up totals, demographic breakdowns, and overall health of the individual state markets? The headline national numbers only tell part of the story. By the middle of this month, 13 states had exceeded initial enrollment projections, according to a count by Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner. But another 12 states were at less than half their projected sign-ups, and 24 were at less than two-thirds of sign-up expectations. What this means is that Obamacare is going to look very different depending on what state you live in. Some states will meet or beat enrollment expectations and presumably end up with viable insurance markets in the process. But others will have low enrollment totals and bad demographic mixes, and are likely to face higher premiums and fewer plan choices as a result.
What will premiums look like next year? This matters both for the politics of the law and for its success as a policy mechanism. President Obama initially sold the health care overhaul as a way to reduce premiums, but recently the administration has trimmed back its promises, saying instead that premiums will still rise, just not as fast as prior to the law. But there are early rumbles from insurers suggesting that, when they set rates for next year, premiums could jump dramatically, with some warning that rates could double, or more. Because of the state-by-state nature of Obamacare’s insurance markets, those effects won’t be felt evenly. But if big hikes do appear in many markets, then you have to wonder: How many people will want to stay with their current plans? And what will this do to the already weak political support for the law?
Another question Suderman poses is how many of the sign-ups are people who were previously uninsured. The rationale for ObamaCare was to get more Americans insured. It is by no means clear that this massive, job-killing restructuring of our economy does that.
Here’s my bet: Democrats are getting ready to smear those who want real numbers on ObamaCare. People who demand the numbers will be vilified as partisan hacks who want to harm the president and his health care system.