- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Health insurance executives told Congress on Wednesday that at least 80 percent of Obamacare customers have paid their first premiums by the deadline, meaning that most of the 8 million people who enrolled are actually getting coverage.

Democrats trumpeted the law’s early returns, saying they undercut Republicans’ own calculations that suggested a third of all enrollees weren’t paying their premiums and weren’t covered.

“Republicans know that public acceptance and approval of this law will continue to grow,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said at a press conference alongside three House Democrats, where the lawmakers urged Republicans to stop trying to repeal the law.

Executives from carriers such as Wellpoint, Cigna and Aetna told lawmakers that between 80 percent and 90 percent of their new Obamacare customers are paying their first premiums by their respective deadlines. It is a “dynamic” figure that is ever-changing, but higher than the 67 percent statistic that House Republicans publicized a week ago, according to testimony before the Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel.

Committee Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado said Republicans skewed the figures by having them end at mid-April — before a surge of last-minute enrollees had the chance and/or obligation to pay.

Faced with the executives’ testimony, she said Republicans were forced to change their talking points.

“They were like, ‘Divert! Divert!’” she told Mr. Murphy in a chat about Republican tactics in the hallway outside of the press conference.

Republican lawmakers said they plan to update their numbers later this month, but argued they were forced to drag insurance representatives before the committee because the Obama administration has not been forthcoming about who had paid — a necessary step to effectuate enrollment. They said they will update their figures later this month.

“The public deserves transparency,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and the Energy and Commerce Committee’s full chairman.

But Wednesday’s hearing mostly shed light on what Congress still does not know about the law’s progress.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, wanted to know whether premiums would go down, asserting that was promise used to sell Obamacare to the American people. The insurers, who were unlikely to provide propriety information before they have to, said they are evaluating the risk pools and could not answer her question.

Rep. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican who is trying to take Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s seat this November, tried to find out how many customers lost their existing health plans last year because of Obamacare’s requirements. The executives had few numbers at hand, but said the law — and not their companies — was to blame.

“The law required us to send out those cancellations,” said Dennis Matheis, a regional president at Wellpoint.

GOP operatives are making Obamacare’s missteps the centerpiece of their attempt to retake the Senate in mid-term elections this November, and frequently note the law’s poor polling numbers.

But Mr. Murphy pushed back at their claims, asserting the law is “no longer the kind of vote-making asset they thought it would be.”

“This can be an asset, not a liability, for Democrats given the success that we have seen with enrollment and costs over the past few months,” he said. “It’s just up to us to continue to tell that story.”

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