We wrote about the House Energy and Commerce Committee's new Obamacare enrollment statistics earlier today. In short, the committee found that of the consumers who'd "signed up" for plans on the federal exchange, only two-thirds of them had completed the enrollment process by paying as of April 15. Based on that information, the administration's "8 million enrollees" bragging sustains and even bigger credibility blow than even many skeptics had anticipated. At his daily press briefing this afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney hotly disputed the new findings, but couldn't refute them with any empirical evidence:
"We dispute their numbers. We don't have hard, concrete numbers."
That's a verbatim quote. Recall that Kathleen Sebelius -- who also testified on several occasions that the administration doesn't have their own numbers to share -- urged Congress to ask the insurers for this information. A House committee did exactly that, and the White House doesn't like the results. A few points on Carney's commentary:
(1) He makes two fair points in questioning the committee's report: First, the GOP says its findings are based on responses from "every insurance provider in the health care law’s Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM)." The Obama administration says the study only incorporated about 160 companies -- just over half of the approximately 300 participants in the federal exchange. Perhaps Republicans could argue that they selected a representative sample, but that is still different from "every" provider. This discrepancy isn't helpful to the report's credibility. Second, the new data is based on payment rates through mid-April. Carney says this likely excludes many people who were part of the late enrollment surge -- which occurred at the very end of March, and spilled into April. That's right. In fairness, the committee is only working off of the available data, no thanks to the administration. They should re-survey the same insurers now, then share the updated data later this month. By the way, it's reasonable to wonder if the March/April procrastinators are more or less likely to pay their first month's premiums on time, to activate the coverage they've selected. We'll see.
(2) Carney says the administration doesn't have "complete" data, so they're not going to release it. Ah, so these guys are suddenly sticklers for accuracy. Remember, this is the same crew that wildly celebrated inflated and incomplete enrollment numbers when it suited their political interests to do so. "Eight million enrollments!" was bogus, yet they shouted it from the rooftops anyway. They even requested a prime time national address to tout the incomplete statistics. Now that their data is under intense scrutiny, they're justifying their opacity as sober, responsible governance, borne out of an abundance of caution. Nonsense. When asked, Carney said he didn't know when the government would be able to provide their own official figures.
(3) Rolling his eyes, Carney attacks the "canard" that Obamacare is government insurance. It's true that the exchanges are not (though the expansion of a failing Medicaid program certainly is). But Obamacare undoubtedly represents a massive additional intrusion of the federal government into the US healthcare system. The government is legally requiring all citizens to purchase a product, which must comply with a litany of government-devised mandates. And they're spending trillions of taxpayer dollars to administer the new regime. That's heavy government micromanagement, even if it's not a full-blown government "takeover" of healthcare -- which is the ultimate goal of many of its defenders.
(4) "This is not data that is shared traditionally through the government, but we are assembling it," Carney says. That's also true. But Healthcare.gov and the Obamacare "data hub" was supposed to do precisely that. The reason that the administration doesn't have complete statistical information at this time is because they screwed up badly. They're still frantically building the "back end" elements of Healthcare.gov that should have been in place on October 1, 2013. They're way over budget, and so far behind schedule that they're no longer committing to due dates. Because of this gross, costly incompetence, the only way to retrieve much of the relevant enrollment information is to go directly through the insurers, which is what the committee attempted to do.
(5) In response to another question, Carney mocked Republicans' predictions on Obamacare -- which is pretty ballsy, considering Team Obama's track record on the subject. He said that the GOP expectation that health costs and expenditures would increase has been "blown to smithereens" by the fact that cost inflation has been at the lowest level "in half a century." Indeed, that slowdown in cost increases (which is different from a reduction in costs) predates Obamacare's implementation, and the government's own economists agree that the new law was not a remotely significant factor in that phenomenon. Beyond that, Americans' costs are not going down. The administration and insurers are warning of higher premiums in 2015 and beyond. And as for aggregate healthcare spending, it's trajectory is upward. The national cost curve isn't being bent down, it's going the opposite direction. The first quarter of this year marked the largest spike in healthcare spending in 34 years, directly because of Obamacare. We were promised substantially lower premiums and lower overall spending by a president who warned that the existing status quo was "unsustainable." Blown to smithereens!
UPDATE - A Republican aide at the Energy and Commerce Committee contacted me with a few clarifications from their end. The aide says the committee contacted every insurer listed on the administration's website as participating in the federal exchange -- which, after accounting for parent companies, numbered 160. They received replies to all 160 letters, which is reflected in this data. The committee does, in fact, plan to follow-up on the numbers through May 20.