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Is California the Great Obamacare Success Story?

5:59 PM, Nov 25, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes that Obamacare is a success in California, and the Golden State experience is proof that the entire program would be great if they could just get that darn website to work. 

Krugman's column doesn't discuss the quality or cost of the health plans offered on the California exchange at all. To make his case, Krugman cites precisely two pieces of data. First, he notes that "enrollment is surging. At this point, more than 10,000 applications are being completed per day, putting the state well on track to meet its overall targets for 2014 coverage." Second, he writes that California has a "balanced risk pool — that is, it must sign up young, healthy Americans as well as their older, less healthy compatriots. And so far, so good: in October, 22.5 percent of California enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34, slightly above that group’s share of the population."

"What we have in California, then, is a proof of concept," writes Krugman. "Yes, Obamacare is workable — in fact, done right, it works just fine."

But in reality, the numbers are not impressive. Obamacare has canceled the existing insurance policies of 1.1 million Californians (something Krugman doesn't mention), and only 80,000 Californians had signed up for Obamacare by the middle of November (another thing Krugman doesn't mention). Is it really much of a surprise that 10,000 people are signing up for Obamacare each day if a million lost their plans and have nowhere else to turn? 

Health care industry consultant Bob Laszewski looks at the California numbers and is left scratching his head

  • California has 5.3 million uninsured eligible to buy in the exchange with half estimated to be subsidy eligible.
  • California is cancelling another 1.1 million people of which Covered California has estimated 510,000 qualify for a subsidy they can only get if they go to Covered California. At least 80% need to act by December 23 to avoid losing their coverage.
  • The state is spending $250 million in federal money to get people signed up––dramatically more than any other state.
  • The Covered California goal is to sign-up 500,000 to 700,000 subsidy eligible people by March 31.
  • Why should we be so impressed with Covered California because they have signed-up 80,000 people so far? Or, even that their goal is to sign-up 500,000 to 700,000 of the state's 6.4 million people––half subsidy eligible––who are uninsured or having their insurance canceled?

    Looking at these numbers, if they don't have well more than 500,000 people signed up by December 31, I would have to think the number of uninsured in California would have grown.

If the California exchange is such a success, then why did California Democratic senator Diane Feinstein sign on to the Landrieu bill that would force insurers to sell their old plans (and destroy Obamacare in the process)? If Californians are so happy with the program, why did seven California Democrats in the House buck their party and vote for the GOP's Keep Your Health Plan Act?

Could it be that a functioning website has made Obamacare even more unpopular in California than the rest of the country? Because the state's website is actually working, Californians like Tom Waschura have been able to see for themselves just how much Obamacare will raise their premiums. The functioning website has allowed some Californians, like cancer patient Edie Sundby, to realize that if they like their doctor, they can't keep their doctor.

In the 36 states reliant on the broken federal website, most people haven't had the opportunity to see whether or not Obamacare will increase costs and limit access. So isn't it possible that once Healthcare.gov gets up and running that Obamacare will actually become more unpopular?

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