Numbers raise doubts about Obamacare spin

The Obama administration has counted everyone who signed up for health coverage through its exchanges this year. Unsurprisingly, they’ve declared the law a success.

As of late February, some 11.7 million people enrolled — 8.8 million on and 2.9 million via state marketplaces. That’s nearly 30 percent more than officials predicted.

But the administration has historically played fast and loose with its numbers. Government officials have routinely been wrong about how much they’d spend subsidizing coverage, how many young people would sign up, and how many uninsured they’d cover.

Last May, the administration boasted that more than 8 million people signed up for coverage through the exchanges. Six months later, officials conceded that just 6.7 million had done so.

Part of the problem was that the feds couldn’t count. If someone bought dental coverage to supplement medical insurance, the White House tallied two sign-ups. Additionally, some people signed up but did not pay their premiums. So they didn’t technically enroll.

The share of young people enrolling hasn’t changed. For two years running, 28 percent of sign-ups were between the ages of 18 and 34. The White House originally stated that 40 percent of enrollees would need to be young for the exchange’s finances to work.

Folks 55 years and older accounted for 26 percent of enrollees this year — nine percentage points more than federal officials predicted.

This mix of enrollees is a problem. Obamacare is counting on premiums from the young and healthy to hold down those for the old and sick. If the young don’t sign up — and if the old comprise a disproportionate share of the exchange pool — then premiums will spiral upward to cover the cost of treating them.

Even the individual mandate — the requirement that all Americans secure coverage or pay the greater of $325 or 2 percent of income this year — hasn’t compelled people to buy insurance. According to a McKinsey & Co. poll, only 12 percent of uninsured would buy health plans after learning of the penalty. Paying the penalty was cheaper than purchasing coverage for 31 percent of respondents, according to the consultancy.

The share of Americans eligible for taxpayer subsidies is also higher than expected. This year, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 75 percent of those enrolling in an exchange would qualify for subsidies, down from 85 percent last year.

Instead, the share needing subsidies in the federal exchange jumped to 87 percent. That’s equivalent to 7.7 million people. This year’s bill for those folks? Some $28 billion.

Subsidies may be more prevalent. But insurance is not any more affordable. This year’s average monthly exchange premium is $364; the average subsidy is $263 per month. So the average net monthly premium after subsidies is $101 — a 23 percent increase from last year’s $82 average.

Obamacare may not be covering as many people as it claims. And it may be costing taxpayers more than promised. At least it’s making a dent in the uninsured rate, right?

Not really.

The Obama administration has stated that the percentage of uninsured Americans dropped from 20.3 percent pre-Obamacare to 13.2 percent today. But the administration can’t legitimately take credit for that decline.

Obamacare became law while the wounds of the Great Recession were fresh — and America’s uninsured rate was at its peak. Before the recession hit in 2008, our nation’s uninsured rate was just under 15 percent, according to Gallup.The Census Bureau says the uninsured rate started dropping in 2010 and continued to fall in the years that followed.

The Census pegged the uninsured rate at 13.4 percent in 2013 — the year before Obamacare’s exchanges and Medicaid expansion took effect.

In other words, the launch of the exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid coincided with a decrease in the uninsured rate of a measly 0.2 percent.

There’s a saying that “desperate times call for desperate measures.” At the White House, desperate times seem to call for desperate measurements.

It’s time to repeal and replace Obamacare with a law that will bring about affordable, accessible, quality care for all.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top