Lies of Obamacare

Yesterday the Obama administration — Queen Seeb — announced the Obamacare enrollment figures through the end of December. Michael Shear and Robert Pear report the numbers here for the New York Times; Amy Goldstein and Sandhya Somashkehar report the numbers here for the Washington Post.

In a graphic the Times states: “Nearly 2.2 million people picked a health insurance plan through the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act through Dec. 28.” Obama flack Jay Carney characterized the result as “solid, solid news” for the viability of Obamacare. Neither the Times nor the Post takes Carney’s assessment at face value.

However, they do take the numbers at face value, which I think is a mistake. I think the reported “enrollments” must be taken in a Pickwickian (nonliteral, aspirational) sense.

Sarah Kliff reported the interpretive key this past November: The Obama administration includes in its “enrollment” numbers anyone who has filled out an application and selected a qualified health plan in the exchanges. The sale has yet to be closed. The premium has yet to be paid.

If the interpretive key continues to apply to the December numbers, the actual results will prove worse than those claimed yesterday, which are, as Avik Roy shows, pitiful. The actual results will prove worse because the pool of older (sicker) enrollees will be the most motivated to close the deal. By comparison, the younger (healthier) enrollees will not be feeling the love.

UPDATE: The HHS enrollment report itself is posted online here. The report confirms on page 5 that the numbers are not to be taken literally: “To date, nearly 2.2 million (2,153,421) persons have selected a Marketplace plan during the first three months of the initial open enrollment period, including 956,991 in SBMs and 1,196,430 in the FFM (these numbers include those who have paid a premium and those who have not yet paid a premium — including persons whose coverage begins in January 2014 and persons whose coverage begins in February 2014).” David Hogberg has more on the enrollment report here.

In “A second look at Medicaid enrollment numbers,” Sean Trende demonstrates the difficulty of applying the reality principle even to reported Medicaid enrollments.

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