The Results are In: Young Adults Underrepresented on Obamacare Exchanges

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius couldn’t have been clearer, “You are not fully enrolled in [an Obamacare plan] until you pay your premium.”

And therein lies the rub. While the White House has been trotting out lofty numbers to support their claim that Obamacare is a smashing success, it was based on people who signed up, but not the more important figure of people who had actually taken the full steps necessary to enroll. Last week, CBS News reports on the problem with that approach:

As of April 15, 67 percent of Americans enrolled in the federally-run Obamacare marketplace had paid their first monthly premium, according to data collected by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While it’s still too early to have a complete picture of the way the Affordable Care Act has shaped the individual health insurance market, the new data helps give a better picture of who’s fully participating in the marketplace. President Obama and Democrats have touted Obamacare’s strong enrollment figures — by April 17, more than 8 million had signed up for private insurance on the new Obamacare marketplaces — but Republicans have been quick to point out that the enrollment process isn’t complete until a consumer pays his first premium.

Sixty-seven percent would be an unmitigated disaster. There’s just no way around that from either a public relations or a policy perspective. But to be fair to the White House, there are a number of outstanding variable that could pull that number up to 80 percent level that most analysts have been projecting. For instance, the 67 percent figure was taken from only from states that used the federal exchange, which doesn’t include some populous states like California, which could skew the average upwards if they’re particularly successful at collecting premiums.

Another complicating factor could be that millions of Americans waited until the final days of the open enrollment period to sign up for an Obamacare plan. For some of those enrollees the window to pay their first month’s premium has yet to close.

The problem is that the White House somehow can’t tell us how many people have successfully enrolled. That disconnect led to a ridiculous press conference in which White House Press Secretary Jay Carney got up to say that the report that only two-thirds of sign-ups had paid, was wrong, despite having to concede they didn’t have any data to prove it.

“We dispute their numbers,” Carney told reports. “We don’t have hard, concrete numbers, but we dispute them.”

And perhaps that’s the real point that the report was trying to make. As Philip Klein opines for the Washington Examiner:

It’s been nearly a month since the open enrollment period for President Obama’s health care law officially ended, but the Department of Health and Human Services still hasn’t released comprehensive enrollment data. . .

This puts HHS officials in a pickle. If they attack the Republican report as inaccurate, it will be an implicit acknowledgement that they have numbers that they aren’t releasing. So their choice is either to stay silent and let the GOP-obtained data fill the news vacuum, or release detailed enrollment data.

Although the information on enrollees is still fluid, one crucial number is not: the number of young adults who signed up for a plan. A new report from the Department of Health and Human Services says that only 28 percent of those who signed up for an Obamacare plan were between the ages of 0 and 34. That’s well below the White House’s projection of 40 percent.

The fact that the risk pool will now assuredly skew older, and presumably sicker, than insurers had planned for could cause serious problem for the law. Namely, it could cause premiums to increase even more than they otherwise would have next year, which could deter even more relatively health young adults from signing up for insurance. That’s a slower growing, but still very real, threat of the much-dreaded death spiral that so scared the White House earlier this year.

The bottom line is that Obamacare isn’t out of the woods yet, in spite of the consistently rosy comments being parroted by this administration.