A week ago, Politico called this the worst-case scenario for ObamaCare. The odds were slim, they assured us, but not quite zero that the magical combo of millions of cancellations, endless exchange “glitches,” and panicky half-assed logistical complications designed to “fix” the problem would mean fewer insured Americans at the end of 2013 than existed at the start of the year. It was unlikely, claimed Politico, because the four or five million whose plans have been canceled had alternate routes to enrollment that didn’t involve Healthcare.gov. They could enroll directly with their current insurer in a new plan (although not if they wanted a subsidy, which are available exclusively on the exchanges) or they might even be automatically enrolled in a plan by their insurer in the interest of preventing a lapse of coverage. But it was, in fact, possible that the first week of January would bring news that ObamaCare had actually made the problem it purported to solve worse. That’s the worst-case scenario. It’d be a PR catastrophe.

Via John McCormack, Bob Laszewski says it’s not so unlikely anymore.

Insurers privately tell Bob Laszewski that they think more people will have lost insurance by January 1 than the number who have signed up for Obamacare by January 1.

“I was out making some client calls this week with a number of different carriers and they know exactly how many policies they canceled and how many who reupped. And they know how many people have come in through the exchange,” says Laszewski. “And I didn’t find one of them who thought they were going to be net ahead on January 1. They all think they’re going to net behind on January 1. That’s where it’s trending so far.”

So far, at least 4.8 million Americans have received insurance cancellations notices, but Laszewski predicts that the total Obamacare enrollment will be less than half that number on January 1.

“My guess is that we’ll have somewhere around a million and a half people signed up for Obamacare on January 1 in the states and in helathcare.gov,” he says. The big question then, he adds, is “why have we gone through this whole dislocation of the American health insurance system if only a million and a half to two million buy health insurance?”

Good question. Another question, via Guy Benson: How many people will be neither enrolled nor not enrolled come January 1? What I mean is, how many of them will be stuck in some sort of limbo where they tried to sign up but either got trapped in the Healthcare.gov Twilight Zone or tangled up in the endless red tape HHS has created for insurers? WaPo claims that the federal O-Care exchange is already looking at a backlog of 50-60,000 paper applications with the final 10-day enrollment crunch still to come. And that’s not all:

She and the other individual familiar with the system said that some of the 50,000 to 60,000 applications have not been completed because consumers did not provide all the required information, and workers from the outside company, Serco, have been unable to reach them by phone to fill in the blanks.

In other instances, paper applications were placed on hold until last week because parts of the online system needed to answer eligibility questions were not working well enough.

In still other cases, Serco workers ran into one of various computer errors when they tried to process a paper application, and that error has not been corrected.

Besides the applications in the backlog, there are roughly 100,000 paper applications that have been processed, but the consumer was not told of the results until recently. The applicants are supposed to be mailed notification letters, but none went out until recently and the vast majority still have not.

So, to sum up: Not only is some significant portion of the backlog destined to go unprocessed due to uncorrectable errors, but even the status of the ones that have been processed are still a mystery to most of the consumers who filled them out. Some of these people expecting to receive a “you’re enrolled” letter are going to get a letter instead notifying them that their application’s incomplete or that there’s some outstanding issue. How many will get that in time to correct the error before December 23? How much extra work will that mean for already overwhelmed insurers before January 1?

As a gloss on all this, go read this Peter Suderman piece at Reason. Per this week’s WSJ/NBC poll, support for ObamaCare is now running at 24/50 — among the uninsured. Go figure that HHS is suddenly in jeopardy of having more people lose coverage this year than sign up for it.