Juking the ObamaCare Stats
Most of Washington seems to have bought the White House claim that the 36 federal exchanges are finally working, and glory, glory, hallelujah. But if that's really true, then what explains the ongoing secrecy and evasion?
On Wednesday the Health and Human Services Department continued its Victorian-era strip tease and allowed a glimpse into the Affordable Care Act's "enrollment" for November. Out of respect for a free press, reporters ought to boycott these releases because they're so selective that they reveal little about real enrollment. But we'll try to parse the data as best we can without the White House high gloss.
A charitable reading suggests that ObamaCare's net enrollment stands at about negative four million. That's the estimated four million to five and a half million people who had their individual health plans liquidated as ObamaCare-noncompliant—offset by the 364,682 who have signed up for a plan on a state or federal exchange and the 803,077 who have been found eligible to receive Medicaid.
HHS is boasting of enrollment for November that was four times as high as October, yet 62% of the total was in the state exchanges, some of which are marginally less prone to crashing than the federal version. Then again, 41 states posted sign-ups only in the three or four figures, including eight states that run their own exchanges. Oregon managed to scrape up 44 people. Among the 137,204 federal sign-ups, no state is reaching the critical mass necessary for stable insurance prices.
The larger problem is that none of these represent true enrollments. HHS is reporting how many people "selected" a plan on the exchange, not how many people have actually enrolled in a plan with an insurance company by paying the first month's premium, which is how the private insurance industry defines enrollment. HHS has made up its own standard.
Insurers know that the hardest part of doing business in the individual market is getting customers to write a check. People are accustomed these days to automatic payroll deductions and the unseen lost wages of employer-sponsored insurance. Many Americans may enroll on the exchange but then fail to pay once they see monthly costs that could range from the equivalent of a cellphone bill if they qualify for subsidies (President Obama's favorite comparison) to premiums that can exceed $1,000 or huge deductibles for the unlucky who must overpay to finance the insurance of others.
HHS also hasn't built the tools that would allow people to pay through the exchange. Customers must contact their putative insurer, who may not be aware of their existence because the federal exchanges continue to produce corrupted data on the "back end" that are crucial for insurers.
After stonewalling for weeks about the error rate, HHS now says it is down to 10%, which we suppose is good enough for government work. But some insurers are still processing applications by hand, not least because one of five customers are submitting them on paper, not electronically.
HHS is trying to conjure the appearance of progress and specificity even as it conceals everything that is relevant to ObamaCare's performance. The bureaucracy will tell you it fielded 3,495,276 inquiries at the federal call centers and that 28,412,684 people visitedHealthcare.gov. But it will not tell you the demographics and health status of new beneficiaries, or what type of plans they're selecting, or HHS's enrollment goals over time.
In other nondisclosure news, the House Oversight Committee turned up letters Wednesday showing that HHS ordered the private contractors partly responsible for theHealthcare.gov fiasco not to cooperate with congressional investigations or hand over documents. For no pertinent reason, HHS reminds them that they signed contracts obligating them not to share information with "third parties."
HHS goes on to note that "If you receive a request for this information from Congress, CMS will respond directly to the requestor and will work with the requestor to address its interests in this information." Explaining how the government managed to waste hundreds of millions of dollars building a website in 2013 might be in the public interest, so what are they afraid the contractors will produce?
The reason for all this obstruction and statistical juking is so the White House can get the press corps and Democrats to believe that the worst is over and that ObamaCare is now rolling toward success. On that score they've succeeded. But it's impossible for an outsider to know what the truth really is because HHS and the White House continue to manipulate and bury the real statistics.
See Votes by State
News & Politics