Administration can’t determine how many Americans have paid Obamacare premiums

The Obama Administration isn’t able to provide information on how many Americans have paid premiums for health plans selected on the state and federal Obamacare exchanges. Why? Because that part of the backend system hasn’t been built, according to an administration official who testified on Capitol Hill yesterday.

During an appearance yesterday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told members that his agency didn’t know how many people had paid their first month’s premium.

“Right now, we are not. But we will be,” Cohen told Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), who had asked about CMS’s ability to collect premium payment information.

“When?” Harper asked.

“As soon as that functionality has been built,” said Cohen. “I think I answered some questions about that earlier, that not all that functionality is built yet.”

“So we don’t know at this point how many have actually paid for coverage?” Harper prodded.

“That’s right,” replied Cohen with a nod.

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that nearly 2.2 million people had “selected plans” on the state and federal Obamacare exchanges. The administration also provided demographic information on those who had selected plans for the first time.

But, as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained in mid-December, those who selected plans have to pay their first month’s premium before they can be counted as an enrollment. At that time, insurers had only seen a fraction of potential enrollees actually pay their premium.

The Obama Administration asked insurers last month to extend the deadline for premium payments to January 10 so that coverage could begin retroactively to the beginning of the year. Insurers complied with the request.

One insurance industry expert told the Washington Post last week that premium payments had increased, though the numbers were still relatively low.

“I was surprised today calling around to people to find only about 50 percent have paid,” said Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates. “That’s not a reason to panic yet. The due dates for payment have been sliding all around, so people can be confused. But it can be a mess.”

“Some insurers are doing autocalls like politicians do the night before the election asking people to pay,” he added.

Using the administration’s numbers, a 50% premium payment rate would equate to around 1.1 million enrollments from October 1 to December 28 — the first three months of the open enrollment period. The administration estimated that 3.3 million people would enroll in that time span.

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