- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2014

With final Obamacare tallies in, Democratic candidates set back by the law’s early stumbles may rely on citing new figures that show sign-ups for private coverage exceeded expectations in red states and toss-up ones that did not exactly embrace the law.

Nearly half the states, or 44 percent, met or exceeded their enrollment expectations under Obamacare, according to an Avalere Health analysis released Friday that took the latest Obama administration data and assumed about 15 percent of customers will not pay their first premium and effectuate coverage.

The Washington-based consultancy compared the government figures with its in-house projections for enrollment and found that Florida, North Carolina and New Hampshire — which all have closely-watched statewide races — were among the leaders in exceeding expectations.


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“Despite every obstacle to health care that [incumbent Republican governor] Rick Scott put up, almost one million Floridians now have affordable health coverage,” Democratic challenger Charlie Crist tweeted shortly after Health and Human Services released the figures Thursday.

But Obamacare polls poorly overall and attacking it is at the center of the Republican strategy to retake the Senate and defeat Democratic gubernatorial challengers, a fact reflected in GOP candidates’ response to the sign-up tally.

Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is trying to stave off GOP challengers in North Carolina, where enrollment in Obamacare exceeded Avalere's projection by more than 50 percent. (Associated Press Photographs)
Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is trying to stave off GOP challengers ... more >

Charlie Crist’s Obamacare celebrations show how out of touch he is with Florida families who are hurting because of this failed law,” Scott campaign spokesman Matt Moon said. “Costs are going up and work hours are going down, yet Crist continues to live in his fantasy world where Obamacare has done no harm.”

Political discourse out of Capitol Hill tends to pitch the health-care law as either a complete success or failure. But analysts warn that risk pools are grouped by state and insurer participation varies, so geography can play a key role in how insurers set rates or compete in the coming year.

“Once again, the data paint a diverse and complex picture. Enrollment significantly beat expectations in some states but fell short in others,” said Elizabeth Carpenter, a director at Avalere, the Washington-based consultancy that crunched the numbers. “Regional variation is a key feature of the current exchange marketplace, and it could impact carrier decisions to participate in some markets in 2015.”

That means premiums could rise sharply in some areas, but not in others, having disparate political ramifications for candidates in key races during this year’s mid-term season. Higher enrollment brings greater hope for a diverse risk pool, keeping rates in check.

In North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is trying to stave off Republican challengers, enrollment exceeded Avalere projection by more than 50 percent. New Hampshire’s enrollment came in at 141 percent of Avalere’s projection, a near-term boon for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, as she takes on Republican challenger Scott Brown.

But Obamacare remains fragile terrain for Senate Democrats in right-leaning and toss-up states this November, as enrollment totals are tempered by the thousands of people in each state who lost their barebones health policies last fall.

So far, the incumbents have focused on a fix-it platform to smooth out the law’s unpopular aspects or reserved their firepower for home-state officials who refused to expand Medicaid under the overhaul, while GOP challengers try to keep them on their heels over an uneven enrollment season.

“Unfortunately, what the statistics don’t measure is the grief and confusion caused by Obamacare, from cancelled policies to a lack of choice when it comes to choosing your own doctor,” Brown campaign spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said. “The people of New Hampshire value their individual freedoms. Obamacare takes away those freedoms.”

Jim Merrill, a Republican strategist who ran Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire operations during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, said narrow doctor networks and forfeited health plans will resonate with the type of voters who show up for mid-term elections.

“The truth is,” he said, “the Democrats don’t know how to talk about success when it comes to Obamacare because there hasn’t been any success.”