It was obvious earlier this year that something odd was happening with Obamacare’s enrollment numbers. In May, the White House claimed that over 8 million people had signed up for insurance through Obamacare exchanges after an unexpected and much-hyped “last minute surge” in enrollment—but this was only after the initial enrollment period was -extended. Nonetheless, liberal pundits high-fived each other, and Obama held a defiant press conference in which he all but pointed fingers at people who doubted the law would be a success. Shortly afterwards, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would no longer issue monthly updates on the number of people enrolled.
That’s no doubt because enrollment quickly started to decline. In September, federal officials testified before Congress that there had been attrition but that 7.3 million Americans were still enrolled in Obamacare—comfortably surpassing the stated goal of enrolling 7 million in the first year. On November 10, HHS secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that there were still fewer enrollees at the end of October, putting the figure at 7.1 million.
Well, it turns out that’s not right either. The House Oversight Committee revealed last week that HHS included 400,000 people with standalone dental coverage in their most recent estimate. In other words, after much misdirection and lying about the supposed triumph of hitting the magic number, we now know that Obamacare fell short of its enrollment goal.
Again, if you were paying attention in the spring, it already looked like the administration was cooking the books, and many right-leaning commentators said as much. Still, liberal pundits had a field day accusing Republicans of being, in the words of Media Matters, “Obamacare enrollment truthers.” When it was first announced Obamacare enrollment surpassed 7 million, MSNBC host Ed Schultz actually mocked the doubters by pointing at a screen with the triumphant 7 million number on it, saying, “If that’s not the truth, we got a hell of a story on our hands.”
He wasn’t wrong. Even liberal wonks are now upset at the dishonesty here. Combined with the damaging revelation of several videos of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber talking about how deception and a lack of transparency were intentional aspects of the law, it’s fair to assume Americans were intentionally lied to about the enrollment numbers as well. It stands to reason that somebody at the White House thought padding the numbers was a risk they had to take. Had the failure of Obamacare to hit its enrollment goal been a talking point two months before instead of two weeks after the election, it might have made Democrats’ weak showing at the ballot box even more disastrously bad.
Aside from the dishonesty, the enrollment numbers point to bigger problems with the law. Assuming the initial 8.1 million enrollment figure is correct—a big assumption—the attrition rate is astonishing. Since the enrollment period ended, approximately 1.1 million Obamacare enrollees have dropped their coverage, as have an astounding 700,000 of the 1.1 million initially enrolled in Obamacare dental plans. That suggests people are dropping coverage after they use it to cover their immediate medical expenses—behavior that the law enables and that undermines insurance markets—or perhaps signing up for it and then failing to pay. Another no less troubling explanation is that enrollees are put off by Obamacare’s high deductibles and limited doctor networks.
The high attrition rate goes a long way toward explaining why HHS also dramatically lowered its enrollment goal for next year from 13 million to 9 million. Even after lowering the bar, at this rate The Scrapbook won’t be surprised if they miss that goal as well. And we’ll be even less surprised if they attempt to lie about it—again.