Carney: That terrible youth ObamaCare enrollment number is “solid news”
posted at 9:31 pm on January 16, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham
It’s a good thing someone decided to put those goalposts on wheels, amirite?
We’ve talked about this before, but the basics again, are these: ObamaCare requires a bunch of young people who are healthy and inexpensive to sign up for ObamaCare in order to make the overall risk pool better, thereby keeping premium costs from what is termed a “death spiral.” The death spiral happens when a bunch of sick, old, expensive people make it a priority to sign up for coverage, which is very attractive to them because they were getting very expensive coverage or none at all before, while all the low-risk, inexpensive people notice they’re getting hosed and opt not to buy. Once that happens, premiums must creep (or jump in giant leaps) higher to compensate for the pool’s high risk. When that happens, more low-risk people leave the pool, and the problem spirals out of control as premiums spiral higher and higher. This is not ideal, and yet thus far, ObamaCare’s open enrollment, with hours of dedication and repeated tries required to sign up, seems calculated to scare off young, web-savvy people who don’t need insurance all that bad while letting in only those most dedicated to running the government’s gauntlet of incompetence to buy it. Even if you don’t go full death spiral, per se, a worse mix than expected will lead to higher premiums.
The proof is in the enrollment numbers, which are a special cocktail of one part nonsense, one part evasion, and one part pure distilled ignorance. But we do seem to know that about 24 percent of enrollees are age 18-34, according to a long awaited HHS moment of transparency. The number the White House wanted in the mix was 39 percent.
In December, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation identified a “worst-case scenario” situation in which just 25 percent of enrollees were in the 18-to-34 demographic.
In a conference call held earlier Monday and embargoed for release at 4 p.m. EST, Nancy Delew, acting deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at HHS, insisted that the number of young adults who had enrolled so far was “similar to our expectations” and proportional to the percentage they represent of the under-65 population.
Along with other officials on the call, Delew emphasized that the administration expected younger people with lower medical costs to sign up later in the process. The open enrollment period lasts until March 31, after which point Americans will be subject to the individual mandate penalty for failing to obtain health insurance.
Though there’s a plausible case to be made that younger Americans will wait until later to sign up, the administration is still in a deep hole. Because the current number of young adult signups is significantly less than 40 percent, to make up ground, signups in the coming months will have to be significantly higher than 40 percent.
White House officials consistently—and accurately—argue that the most important metric for Obamacare’s success this year is the mix of young and old enrollees. But they’re backing away from their own goals for that mix.
Getting young people into the system is critical to holding down premiums, and therefore to keeping each state’s insurance market stable. Administration officials previously said their target was for young adults to make up about 38 percent of Obamacare enrollees. Now that standard is down to about 30 percent. Or maybe even 24 percent—where the mix stands now.
The Health and Human Services Department released its first age breakdown on Monday, showing that about 24 percent of Obamacare enrollees are between 18 and 34. Officials from HHS and the White House heralded the figure as a success because it makes an insurance “death spiral”—Obamacare’s worst-case scenario—appear all but impossible.
The administration may well hit its initial 38 percent target, but it’s apparently abandoning that goal preemptively, declaring success just by avoiding the worst possible outcome.
Hell, why not drop the threshold down to 12 percent? Then they would have doubled their goal! Great success! This is hardly the first time the Obamacare brain trust has simply deserted an inconvenient metric mid-stream. In addition to all of the website functionality issues and punted deadlines, here are a handful of prime examples:
(1) We were told that officials expected 7 million Americans to sign up for private coverage under the new law by the end of March. As that target slid out of reach, Kathleen Sebelius basically said “never mind that was never our goal anyway.
Don’t worry, y’all. This is solid news: