On the afternoon of April 1, President Barack Obama pulled out the pom-poms and assumed the role of cheer captain at the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the great Obamacare victory. The Affordable Care Act had reached its purported goal of 7 million sign-ups, and by the March 31 deadline, no less.
Not 7 million paid consumers. Not 7 million who were previously uninsured, which we were told was the primary objective of the law. Just 7 million people who at least chose a plan via healthcare.gov or the state exchanges.
It was fitting that this pep rally was held on April Fools’ Day.
The Obama administration continues to demonstrate an extreme lack of transparency on the president’s signature legislation, particularly with regard to paid enrollment and the number of sign-ups who were previously uninsured.
The sad truth about Obamacare: It largely has resulted in a churning of the insured. The law forced the cancellation of coverage for millions of people, who were then forced to buy a new, more expensive, Obamacare-compliant policy. An extensive study released Tuesday by Rand Corp. backs that up, estimating that only about one-third of exchange sign-ups were previously uninsured.
The Rand study also estimates that, through March 28, 3.9 million people were covered through the federal and state Obamacare exchanges. That’s not exactly 7.1 million. Granted, the study doesn’t include a deadline surge of enrollees, but if it took from Oct. 1 until March 28 to get 3.9 million sign-ups, it stands to reason that there is no way an additional 3.2 million signed up between March 28 and March 31.
As for paid enrollees, Forbes.com’s Avik Roy used the Rand study and a report last month from management consulting firm McKinsey to determine that 76 percent of those who have paid their first month’s premium were previously insured, while just 24 percent were previously uninsured. A separate Forbes report estimates that 15 to 20 percent of enrollees haven’t paid. It’s safe to assume that many Americans who visited an exchange and selected a plan left it in their online shopping cart with no intention of ever purchasing it because the premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs were astronomical.
This was not what was promised. As Roy rightly notes, the Congressional Budget Office, in its original estimates, predicted that the vast majority of those eligible for subsidies on the exchanges would be previously uninsured individuals. Instead, the vast majority are previously insured people. The only notable achievement of Obamacare thus far is the expansion of Medicaid (5.9 million added, per Rand), which could have been accomplished without the law.
For Americans who had become uninsurable because of disease or a debilitating condition, Obamacare is working. Now they can get health insurance at a reasonable price. But Congress could have helped these people obtain coverage without ruining health care for everybody else.
Yet the celebration goes on. With the dubious sign-up goal of 7 million reached, President Obama immediately latched onto the idea that vindication is here, debate is over and repeal is unworthy. The reality is that the Obama administration has made health insurance dramatically more expensive while reducing choice and not substantially reducing the number of uninsured. That’s worth repeal right there. No fooling.