- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Only two-thirds of people who signed up for health care coverage on the federal Obamacare marketplace had paid their first month’s premiums as of April 15, according to a House Republican-led survey of every insurer on the exchange system.

The Energy and Commerce Committee trumpeted the data as proof of what Republicans have claimed for weeks: Many of the roughly 8 million Americans who signed up for private coverage under President Obama’s signature overhaul have not confirmed their enrollments through payments.

Obama administration officials questioned the validity of the data, although the release is sure to breathe new life into Republican complaints that Mr. Obama and his allies have claimed victory too early.

“In a sad reversal away from its vows of transparency, the Obama administration, from inside the Oval Office on down, has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep basic details of the health law from the public,” said committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican. “Tired of receiving incomplete pictures of enrollment in the health care law, we went right to the source and found that the administration’s recent declarations of success may be unfounded.”

The committee invited insurers and industry groups to testify on Capitol Hill next week.

Insurers told the committee that only 2.45 million people who used HealthCare.gov, the federal market that serves 36 states, made their first payments, lawmakers said.

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That amounts to two-thirds of people who selected plans, the committee said, although their survey does not include those who selected plans on the 17 state-run exchanges.

Republican lawmakers also noted that only 25 percent of paid enrollees were ages 18 to 34, a key demographic for making the economics of Obamacare work. Analysts have said that 40 percent of the market ideally should fall into that age group.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services immediately cast doubt on the Republicans’ figures, saying they did not provide a full picture of enrollment.

“These claims are based on only about half of the approximately 300 issuers in the federally facilitated marketplace and they do not match up with public comments from insurance companies themselves, most of which indicate that 80 to 90 percent of enrollees have paid their premium,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said.

“Additionally, given the significant surge in enrollments at the end of March, it stands to reason that not all enrollees would have paid by the date of this so-called report since many people’s bills were not even due yet,” Mr. Albright said.

Top House Republicans challenged the White House to back up its claims.

“These numbers stand in stark contrast to the White House’s previous assertions,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. “While the administration was eager to declare that Obamacare’s mandate had worked, it has so far not provided any substantive data to back that up.”

Most private insurers have said their payment rates are 80 percent to 90 percent.

Earlier Wednesday, the chief executive of Wellpoint, a top Obamacare insurer, said it was pleased that 90 percent of its exchange customers had paid.

CEO Joseph R. Swedish also said the mix and characteristics of members from the health care overhaul’s exchanges are exceeding their expectations.

The rosy outlook, outlined in a first-quarter earnings call with investors, could dampen the shock waves Wellpoint sent out in late March, when company officials reportedly said consumers may face double-digit rate increases for 2015.

The reports quickly reverberated on Capitol Hill, where House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Republican, challenged reporters to “name names” instead of citing anonymous sources in their questions about skyrocketing rates.

Wellpoint spokeswoman Jill Becher said the earlier reports referenced industrywide trends at the time and that the company’s statements Wednesday reflected the latest enrollment data for the company.

Mr. Swedish said Wellpoint brought in 400,000 enrollees from the exchanges through Feb. 15 and anticipated that number to rise to 600,000 once it factored in the results of a sign-up surge in late March and early April.

“We did notice,” he said, “the average age of applicants decreasing the further we got into the open enrollment period, indicating that younger-age applicants signed up later in the period.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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