Via the Corner. Actually, the total number is just an estimate. Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s biggest insurance provider and one of four companies participating in the exchange, got a big fat zero via Healthcare.gov yesterday. Chances are, if they had no enrollees, neither did their competitors. But who knows? Maybe two or three people managed to complete the sign-up process with a different provider before their computers exploded.
Sixty million dollars.
Since the marketplaces opened to much fanfare Tuesday (Oct. 1), many of the state’s potential customers have been stalled on the website, unable to move past the portion of HealthCare.gov that instructs them how to set up their profile.
“It’s a situation that we are coping with,” said John Maginnis, vice president of corporate communications for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, one of four companies offering products through the marketplace.
The company spent three years and $60 million preparing for Tuesday’s opening, so the lack of momentum seemed a bit of a letdown. Sales agents were getting plenty of calls from people seeking information, Maginnis said, but the agency is not able to sell a policy to anyone without a functioning HealthCare.gov website.
“It was not as intense as we had anticipated,” he said.
Maginnis isn’t sweating it, though, because he expects the spike in enrollees will come not at the beginning but at the end of the enrollment process in December. I think he’s right. Right now the White House is in carrot mode, trying to sell “young invincibles” on the glories of health insurance. But the carrot doesn’t work on everyone: According to Gallup, more than 30 percent of the uninsured were unaware this past week until they were polled that they’re now required by law to buy insurance. As we get closer to December and the need grows more urgent for a big pool of new revenue to cover those with preexisting conditions, the White House is bound to shift from carrot to stick. I’m curious to see how they play that. They’ll hammer the fact that it’s ILLEGAL not to have insurance if you can afford it and that the TAXMAN will make you pay a FINE if you don’t, but they might not emphasize too much that the fine (for this year at least) is the higher of just 95 bucks or one percent of your income. If a thousand Obama speeches on how awesome ObamaCare is can’t create a groundswell of enrollment, maybe strategically vague warnings implying that the IRS might kick down the door will do it.
Anyway, big question: If Louisiana ended up with a donut on enrollment due to grotesque federal incompetence in preparing the exchange websites, how many enrollees did the federal government see across all 34 states where the exchanges are being run out of Washington? Answer: They’re … not going to tell you just yet.
During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) refused to disclose the number of people who bought insurance through the online marketplaces that are a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “We have just decided not to release that yet,” said Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
They did, conveniently, release their traffic stats for the Healthcare.gov website, which tells you a lot about how much public curiosity there was in seeing ObamaCare in action and next to nothing about how many visitors were willing and able to sign up for plans. In fact, per Philip Klein, there’s some reason to believe that New York’s administrators inflated the amount of web traffic to their exchange site, whether to explain why their site was glitchy all day or simply for PR purposes. Exit question: What’s the over/under on how many enrollees there were yesterday nationwide?
Update: HHS now says it’ll be a solid month before they reveal how many people signed up yesterday. I’m tempted to call that preposterous and an obvious dodge to buy time, but these are the same people who couldn’t build a functional website with three years’ notice.