- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2014

About 7.3 million Americans were getting health insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges as of last month, the administration said Thursday, releasing numbers that suggest most customers did sign up properly and pay their premiums.

The new tally is 700,000 less than what the administration celebrated in the spring — what one top Republican called a “precipitous drop” from the 8 million announced at the time — but still higher than target enrollment of 7 million set by congressional budget scorekeepers.

“I’m encouraged by the numbers,” Marilyn Tavenner, administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told lawmakers.

Republicans had predicted a severe drop-off from the 8 million the administration said had enrolled in plans by April. Early reports from insurers had said up to 20 percent of customers had failed to pay their first month’s premiums.

The 7.3 million number is the result of both enrollees who had their coverage canceled because they didn’t pay premiums, but also a boost from enrollees who were able to join the exchanges after the official April enrollment because of a significant life change. The administration said it couldn’t give a breakdown of how many enrollees fell into each category.

Thursday’s number on effectuated enrollment was based on monthly reports from health plan issuers. That figure had fluctuated of late, but stabilized to the point where the agency felt comfortable releasing the Aug. 15 snapshot.

Mrs. Tavenner revealed the number at a hearing called by Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, to shed light on blind spots in the security of HealthCare.gov, the website that serves 36 states that opted to use the federal exchange.

The Republican said he fears people are taking a “free ride” on government-subsidized health insurance by signing up to get one key health service, and then failing to pay and letting their coverage lapse after a 90-day grace period.

“The system as it is today,” he said, “is an incredibly easily-gamed system.”

CMS officials countered that 7.3 million paying customers is an impressive number, and that enrollees must at least pay their first month’s premium to qualify for a three-month grace period before termination.

At a separate hearing Thursday, Republican lawmakers were unable to get enrollment figures on the small-business exchanges.

Features of the business exchanges have been delayed in certain states, and Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves, Missouri Republican, has twice asked the administration in writing for a SHOP — or Small Business Health Options Program — breakdown akin to the enrollment figures it has released for the individual-market enrollment.

Mayra Alvarez, director of CMS’ state exchange group, said Thursday her agency is working with insurers to get those figures, since the agency does not compile SHOP enrollment.

“As soon as we get that information we will share it with you, as well as the American public,” she said.

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