Most Obamacare enrollees already had health coverage

Obamacare was passed under the pretense of expanding health insurance coverage to those who were previously uninsured. The Obama Administration has touted the most recent numbers showing that nearly 2.1 million people selected health plans on the exchanges, also pushing stories of Americans who never before had health insurance. Supports of the law claim 6 million people have gained coverage through Obamacare.

Though it’s true that some who have signed up for coverage had either never had health coverage, the overwhelming majority of Americans who have enrolled previously had health insurance coverage, according to surveys of insurers via the Wall Street Journal:

Insurers, brokers and consultants estimate at least two-thirds of those consumers previously bought their own coverage or were enrolled in employer-backed plans.

The data, based on surveys of enrollees, are preliminary. But insurers say the tally of newly insured consumers is falling short of their expectations, a worrying trend for an industry looking to the law to expand the ranks of its customers.
Only 11% of consumers who bought new coverage under the law were previously uninsured, according to a McKinsey & Co. survey of consumers thought to be eligible for the health-law marketplaces. The result is based on a sampling of 4,563 consumers performed between November and January, of whom 389 had enrolled in new insurance.
Health Markets Inc., an insurance agency that enrolled around 7,500 people in exchange plans, said 65% of its enrollees had prior coverage. Around 10% were dropping out of employer coverage, either because the employer stopped offering its plan or because they could qualify for subsidies on the marketplaces. Fifteen percent had previous individual plans canceled, and 40% decided to switch into coverage bought through an exchange from previous individual plans.
At Michigan-based Priority Health, only 25% of more than 1,000 enrollees surveyed in plans that comply with the law were previously uninsured, said Joan Budden, chief marketing officer.

Oh, and by the way, more people lost their health insurance coverage in 2013 than selected health plans on the exchanges in the first three months of open enrollment. What’s more, given the number of policy cancellations — which range from 5 to 6 million, depending on the estimate — it’s curious why people aren’t enrolling at great numbers than they are. Maybe they’re just not interested, or perhaps the premiums are scaring them away. Who knows. But’s just not happening, at least not yet.

Some may say that these numbers don’t matter, regardless of the details, because the law is still expanding access to care through Medicaid, and they’ll point to the 3.9 million figure released by the administration as a success. But that figure is, well, tenuous at best, according to Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, who based his conclusion on an analysis of Medicaid numbers by Sean Trende (emphasis added):

The White House has propagated numbers regarding sign-ups for the Affordable Care Act, claiming that the program is responsible for 4 million people gaining coverage through Medicaid expansion; 3 million enrollees in their early 20s who remain on their parents’ policies; and 2 million who have purchased insurance through the exchanges.

This claim has significant ramifications, both in terms of policy and politics. If 9 million people really are new beneficiaries of Obamacare at this point, then there is a decent chance that the GOP’s “repeal” mantra will be a net negative by the fall.
[A]fter looking carefully at the numbers cited, the Medicaid figures are the weakest of the bunch. It’s a virtual certainty that the number of enrollments attributable to Obamacare is an order of magnitude less than the 4 million sign-ups implied, and the number of people [on Medicaid] who would actually lose their insurance if Obamacare were repealed is probably around 200,000 to 300,000.

Here’s the thing, folks. There were ways to expand access to health insurance coverage without Obamacare. Free market ideas to accomplish this end had been presented before, but none of them was the cost, centralized, one-size-fits-all approach that Obamacare brought.

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