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Why Obamacare’s Enrollment Triumph Will Prove Fleeting

It’s no surprise the President isn’t more circumspect when touting Obamacare enrollment numbers. But he should be.


President Obama yesterday again claimed his health care law had triumphed as enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges had reached eight million.   However, it will prove a Pyrrhic victory.

Before we get to that, let’s take a look at some of the other figures the Administration used in an email following the President’s victory dance. Here is the second bullet point:

3 million young adults gained coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act by being able to stay on their parents plan.

About two weeks ago I released a study showing that the 3 million number was bogus.  The statistic came from an analysis from the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) using data from the Centers for Disease Control.  HHS inflated the number by including both private and public sources of coverage.  Further, the analysis had not been updated since June 2012.  Correcting for that flaw plus using more up-to-date data showed that not more that 2.64 million young adults have gained coverage via their parents plan.

Additionally, Census Bureau data showed that not more than 258,000 young adults had gained coverage under their parents plan.  I concluded that “we have no clue how many young adults have gotten coverage this way, and the numbers flying around are too unreliable for the president or anyone else to be using.”  Guess President Obama didn’t get the message.

Near the end of the email the Administration uses this whopper:

Up to 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions – including up to 17 million children – no longer have to worry about being denied health coverage or charged higher premiums because of their health status.

That was based on an HHS study  that included “pre-existing conditions” like arthritis, asthma and high cholesterol to boost the number of people who could be denied insurance to absurd heights. Previous research shows that barely one percent of the population is ever denied insurance for a pre-existing condition. Further evidence that the 129 million number is rubbish was supplied by Obamacare’s own high risk pool, set up for people with pre-existing conditions prior to the exchanges.  Known as the Pre-Exising Condition Insurance Plan, it never enrolled much more than 107,000 people.  That’s about .04 percent of the under 65 population.

The HHS study was even too much for and PolitiFact. said the number wasn’t true “because number who would be truly at risk of losing health insurance or paying more money is much smaller.”  Of those 129 million, supposed 17 million were children.  When President Obama used the 17 million figure, Politifact called it “mostly false.”

This Administration has shown itself to be utterly shameless in hawking bogus statistics, so it’s no surprise that the President isn’t more circumspect when touting the 8 million enrollment number.  But he should be.

For starters, we don’t yet know how many exchange enrollees have failed to pay their first premium.  Once that number is known, though, the eight million figure could shrink by 10 to 20 percent.

That’s only one reason why the enrollment number will decrease.  The most recent Congressional Budget analysis claimed that during 2014 an “average” of six million people who be enrolled in the exchanges.  The CBO’s number was lower than the most recent enrollment figure “because some people will drop their exchange-based coverage as they become eligible for employment-based insurance.”

One factor that the CBO did not include was enrollees who leave the exchanges because their income shrinks thereby qualifying them for Medicaid. The U.C. Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education recently estimated that just under one-fifth of enrollees on Covered California would leave the exchange for Medicaid. Combined with people who left because they gained employer-based coverage, the Center found that Covered California would retain about 57.5 percent of current enrollees.

If that occurs across all exchanges,then the final enrollment number will be closer to 4.6 million.  Of course, not every state is California (thank goodness), so the amount of churn due to Medicaid and employer-based coverage will vary across the nation.  Yet those factors will cause the eight million figure to be revised downward as the year goes on.

Each time that happens in the coming months, the media will hark back to the President’s victory dance.  For a public that doesn’t much trust Obama on health care, each revision will likely erode that trust a little further.  They will also provide his political opponents with more opportunities to claim Obamacare isn’t working as well as the President claimed.

Obama could have insulated himself somewhat if he’d offered a caveat such as, “The eight million enrollees is a strong start, even though we know the final number won’t be that high.  Nevertheless, in the end millions will have enrolled in the exchanges this year.”  Yet this President is far too arrogant to make such an admission.  In the long run, though, it will come back to haunt him.

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