EDITORIALS

Now we have an Obamacare baseline. Here are 6 things to look for in future numbers

Posted Nov. 14, 2013, at 11:24 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 14, 2013, at 3:11 p.m.
Gary King, who owns the religious supplies store Miracle On Main Street in Stockton, Calif., had his health insurance cancelled because his policy was not in compliance of the Affordable Care Act.
Genevieve Ross | MCT
Gary King, who owns the religious supplies store Miracle On Main Street in Stockton, Calif., had his health insurance cancelled because his policy was not in compliance of the Affordable Care Act.

Enter numbers into the ongoing and continually escalating political scuffle over President Barack Obama’s health care law.

After weeks of not releasing them while tamping down expectations, the Obama administration on Wednesday published figures detailing how many people succeeded in purchasing insurance through the technologically beleaguered healthcare.gov website in its first month.

One revelation? Obamacare so far owes most of the success it has had to the states that actually took matters into their own hands. The 16 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that aren’t relying on the federal government to run their online health insurance exchanges are responsible for the bulk of successful enrollments.

Just a quarter of the 106,185 people who successfully completed applications, evaluated their insurance options, selected plans and signed up for coverage during the initial enrollment period — Oct. 1 through Nov. 2 — did so through the federally facilitated marketplace that relies on healthcare.gov, according to the Department of Health and Human Services enrollment report.

The states that are operating their own insurance marketplaces haven’t all had an easy go of it, but they’ve been able to address their issues and enroll people in health insurance without waiting on an Obama administration that flubbed its healthcare.gov debut to get its act together.

Maine is one of the 34 states whose Obamacare fate is tied to the success of healthcare.gov. According to the enrollment report, just 271 Maine residents successfully signed up for coverage in Obamacare’s first month. More than 3,500 completed the applications — for policies that would cover almost 6,500 people — needed to start the process.

With the first wave of numbers as a baseline, here are six things to watch for as the Obama administration promises to fix healthcare.gov and the end of the open enrollment period approaches:

— According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than 85 percent of the 7 million people expected to sign up for insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges in 2014 will qualify for subsidies meant to make coverage more affordable. However, just 30 percent of the people who found out they were eligible for a marketplace plan last month earn incomes low enough to qualify them for subsidized coverage. In Maine, the number is 42 percent. (Those who qualify for subsidies must have incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.) If that proportion doesn’t change significantly as the first open enrollment periods come to an end, it’ll show Obamacare has a problem enrolling lower-income people.

— The Obama administration Wednesday didn’t release much information about those who have signed up for insurance. Next time, we hope the federal government releases an age breakdown so we know whether the young people on whose premiums the health care law’s viability depends are buying coverage.

— According to the Obama administration, there’s no reason to think early enrollments aren’t keeping pace with projections that 7 million people will sign up for insurance through the online marketplaces for 2014. Perhaps that will become more evident during future rounds of enrollment figure releases.

— If the Obama administration truly is fixing the problems that have plagued healthcare.gov, the next round of enrollment figures should show more than just a quarter of successful enrollments coming from the federal insurance marketplace.

— As more enrollment figures are released, Americans will be able to tell whether political leaders attempting to thwart the implementation of Obamacare have been successful. In Missouri, for example, a state law approved by ballot measure bars state and local government officials from providing “assistance or resources of any kind” to the federal insurance exchange. The state has also erected barriers for the “navigators” charged with helping people understand the health law, requiring them to obtain a special license. Fortunately, the first round of Obamacare application figures from Missouri don’t seem to be disproportionately low.

— In October, 623 people in Maine discovered they were eligible for Medicaid by going through the qualification process for insurance coverage. Even though Maine isn’t accepting federal funds to expand its Medicaid program, the state’s Medicaid program will still grow as those who are eligible but unenrolled start exploring their insurance options. Future rounds of enrollment figures will show by how much.

The pressure is on for the Obama administration to fix the problems that are undermining the public’s confidence in Obamacare and Obama himself. Future enrollment numbers will tell us whether we should believe the administration when it says it’s fixing those problems.

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