If you read this post last week, you already know what accounts for the discrepancy. The committee took a snapshot on April 15th of new enrollees who hadn’t paid their first premium yet and found a payment rate of just 67 percent, well below the 80 percent figure that had been kicked around for months in the media. One minor problem, though: Because enrollment ended just a few weeks before, on March 31st, the snapshot on April 15th included people who had signed up just before the deadline but hadn’t even received their first bill from the insurance company yet. There are a lot of people like that out there; remember, there was an enormous spike in sign-ups in the days leading up to 3/31 as people tried to get coverage before the door was shut. Long story short, not all of the 33 percent who hadn’t paid yet on 4/15 were deadbeats past their due date. A great many of them were prepared to pay on time but were simply waiting for the bill to come due. Which means, as feared, the big “67 percent” bombshell just blew up in the committee’s face.
But wait, you say. The committee’s numbers were based on information they got from insurers. How can insurers now be claiming 80-90 percent payment when they told the committee it was 67 percent? Simple, says National Journal:
But this week, in written testimony to the same committee, insurers say the 67 percent figure was premature—and that they warned the committee not to draw sweeping conclusions from the information it requested…
Wellpoint, the largest insurer in the Obamacare exchanges, said the payment rate is closer to 90 percent among people who reached their first payment deadline. The company has given investors the same estimate.
Health Care Service Corp., which administers Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in several states, told the committee the same thing: Of plans that have reached their payment deadlines, about 80 percent to 90 percent are paid enrollments…
“As outlined in our prior submissions to the Subcommittee, these are dynamic figures and do not reflect final enrollment numbers, as some enrollees have not yet reached their payment,” Aetna said in written testimony for a Wednesday hearing on the health care law and the insurance industry.
The committee did mention in its press release announcing the 67 percent figure that they’d be updating their numbers on May 20 because “many insurers have reported that individuals will still have time to pay their first month’s premium.” But if they had reason to believe that insurers would end up meeting expectations — i.e. 80 percent payment or higher — when all is said and done, why put out a release touting the lower number in the first place? Just wait a few weeks until the final numbers are in and issue a release then.
Two theories for why the committee rushed this out. Theory one: Stupidity. If and when the final payment numbers are released and it’s confirmed that 10-20 percent of new enrollees, a.k.a. 800,000 to 1.6 million people, will be tossed from the rolls, the White House now has some handy spin. “Once again Republicans underestimated ObamaCare,” they’ll say. “They thought we’d top out at 67 percent payment and we made it to 80 percent. Another victory!” Always a bad idea to lower expectations for your opponent. Theory two: Cynicism. Maybe the committee suspects (correctly) that most people don’t follow the news consistently but get it in bits and pieces at irregular times, especially when it comes to a subject as complex and long-running as ObamaCare. As such, they may have decided to float the 67 percent figure knowing/assuming it was bogus but confident that some low-information voters would notice it and conclude that O-Care was underperforming in yet another metric. Some of those voters will miss today’s news and the White House crowing to come about the correct figure and remain convinced that fully a third of new enrollees haven’t paid.
Which theory is correct? While you ponder that, via the Standard, here’s a reminder that there are still plenty of bad metrics in ObamaCare worth highlighting.