January 20 2014

ObamaCare: Uninsured & Uninterested

Patrice J. Lee

President Obama and his supporters have ardently defended ObamaCare on the promise that it would expand healthcare coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. New data suggests that ObamaCare will fail to achieve this basic goal.

On September 9, 2009, President Obama stood before Congress and the American people to make the case for his healthcare plan. He lectured us about the more than 30 million American citizens who could not get coverage and the one in three Americans who go without health care coverage at some point. He posited that his plan would meet three basic goals: “It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance for those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.”

Like the many promises he made when stumping for ObamaCare, the results have missed the mark. As the Administration trickles out demographic data and insurers compare notes, we are able to piece together the picture of ObamaCare enrollees. What’s apparent is that many aren’t people who had no insurance before ObamaCare, but are those who lost their coverage because of ObamaCare.

The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required):

Early signals suggest the majority of the 2.2 million people who sought to enroll in private insurance through new marketplaces through Dec. 28 were previously covered elsewhere, raising questions about how swiftly this part of the health overhaul will be able to make a significant dent in the number of uninsured.

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.

About 48 million Americans were uninsured in 2012. The health law is expected to cut 25 million from that total by expanding state-run Medicaid programs and the pool of privately insured people who buy through state marketplaces, also called exchanges.

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.

One reason for people declining to purchase plans was affordability. That was cited by 52% of those who had shopped for a new plan but not purchased one in McKinsey's most recent sampling, performed in January. Another common problem was technical challenges in buying the plans, which 30% mentioned.

Accepting that ObamaCare is failing to meet the basic goal of expanding coverage is just one hurdle for the President and supporters to overcome. There are serious implications that the complex healthcare system must address if this trend continues.

As the article explains, many health plans and providers were sold on a promise that the expansion of coverage would fuel growth and draw in healthy uninsured people to offset new costs. Remember, someone has to pay for the law’s new requirements including pap smears and mammograms and that plans can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. So the system needs a mixture of healthy Americans to pay for the costs of sick Americans. That is precisely why the Administration is ramping up PR efforts to lure young (healthy) people to sign up.

Where are the new enrollments coming from (if not the ranks of uninsured)? As we know, upwards of five million Americans received coverage cancellations letters last fall because of ObamaCare. Students at a Historically Black College & University (HBCU) and community colleges lost their emergency coverage plans because they were not ObamaCare-approved either. Many companies including small businesses can no longer afford to provide their workers health insurance and are driving them to the exchanges. That so many new ObamaCare enrollments lost their coverage because of ObamaCare undercuts one of the President’s other goals of ObamaCare:  to provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance.

The Administration is responding with a know-nothing excuse. Officials at Health and Human Services (HHS) claim they don’t know how many people are just shifting from coverage to coverage. The Administration may know nothing, but Americans do know something. ObamaCare is a bad deal for them and young people especially are choosing to opt out.

If the primary focus of the Affordable Care Act is to expand healthcare coverage to uninsured Americans, does it even have a leg to stand on any longer?

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