On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that enrollment in the Obamacare private exchanges increased by 1,146,071 in January. In December, HHS reported 1,788,000 enrollees in the month of December. That suggests a drop-off of approximately 500,000, or 29 percent. (See the chart on page 5 here for a graphical representation).
Yet this underestimates the true extent of enrollment dropoffs. The HHS reporting period for December was four weeks, beginning on 12/1 and ending on 12/28. The reporting period for January was five weeks, beginning on 12/29 and ending on 2/1. This suggests that in December, enrollments averaged 447,000 per week, compared to 229,000 in January, or a 49 percent drop-off in new enrollees.
It is clear by now that the administration will not reach the original CBO estimate of 7 million enrollees by the deadline at the end of March. The real question is: how far short will they fall? If February’s enrollment rate matches that of January, the Administration will be able to claim 916,000 more enrollees in the current reporting period, for a grand total of about 4.2 million. That is 60% of the initial CBO estimate with a month to go before the end of open enrollment. On the other hand, it is hard to tell whether matching the pace set in January is reasonable for February. Notably, Kathleen Sebelius announced on January 24 that HHS had reached 800,000 enrollees already for the month, suggesting that the rate in the final two weeks of the month was lower than the rate in the first three weeks.
One thing is for sure: the total enrollment of 3.3 million reported by HHS is an overestimate. At this point, industry insiders estimate that about 20% of people whom HHS claims are enrollees have not paid their premiums. Meanwhile, hard data from a handful of states suggests that the number of non-payees may be larger. If the insiders are right, then the real level of enrollment right now is just 2.6 million, which puts the administration at just 38 percent of the original target with two-thirds of the enrollment period now finished.