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Has the Obamacare Surge Continued into 2014?

Is Obamacare enrollment still surging or slowing down? The data available suggests the latter but Reuters says the former.

Reuters reported yesterday that the December surge in Obamacare enrollment had continued into 2014, at least in "some states."Author Sharon Begley writes that the continued surge is "encouraging news for White House hopes of signing up 7 million Americans." But the evidence of an ongoing surge is pretty elusive. Consider each of the examples she uses to make her case:

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange has had about 8,000 enrollments in private health plans since late December, bringing the total to just over 73,000.

HHS says Washington was at 68,000 enrolled by December 28th. And looking back we can see the total at the end of November was just 17,770. That means December was a big month with roughly 50,000 enrolled. If the current total is 73,000 then they've added about 5,000 in the first couple weeks of January. Double that and you can project about 10,000 will enroll this month. Even if you double that again just to be generous you're only at 20,000 which is still not in the ballpark of what happened in December. It suggests the pace has slowed down, maybe substantially.

Kentucky, whose Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has been an enthusiastic supporter of Obama's Affordable Care Act, has been logging about 2,000 simultaneous users on its website in January, said Carrie Banahan, executive director of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange.

Again, HHS says Kentucky enrolled 33,000 in private plans by December 28th.  At the end of November the figure was roughly 13,000. So we do see a big surge in December of 20,000 people. Is that pace continuing? Begley writes "Banahan did not release January enrollment figures." So at the moment we simply don't know. We only know that web traffic is better than it was in November.

Connecticut enrolled about 36,000 people in private health plans through late December, spokeswoman Kathleen Tallarita said. Since then it has enrolled "in some cases, 500 to 1,000 in a week," which would put it behind 2013's pace.

Connecticut was indeed at 36,000 in December. At the end of November the figure was 11,631. So again, December was a big month with over 24,000 enrolled. Connecticut actually released new figures today. Halfway through January the enrollment total is now 43,840. That's a bump of about 8,000. Double that and we're looking at perhaps 16,000 new enrollees this month. That's pretty good but it's also a 33 percent drop off from December.

New York has been enrolling about 7,000 people per day in private plans and Medicaid in January, she said, compared with a total of about 230,000 from October 1 through late December.

New York was at 157,000 enrolled in private plans as of December 28th. That's up from 45,000 in November. That works out to 112,000 in December alone. As of midnight Sunday (Dec. 12th) New York was reporting 294,000 enrolled, a figure which includes Medicaid enrollees. If New York maintains the 62-38 private vs. Medicaid split it had in December, Sunday's private plan total would be around 182,000. That means they picked up about 26,000 in two weeks (since Dec. 28th). Add another 19 days at the same rate and we get roughly 61,000 for the month of January. That's half what New York saw in December (and is not consistent with 7,000 new enrollees per day).

California, whose 500,000 private-plan enrollments through December lead all states, has not released January numbers, but said it continued "to see a tremendous amount of interest."

California saw roughly 390,000 enroll in December. Some January data should be out soon but at this moment we have nothing but the word of the spokesperson that there is "a tremendous amount of interest." Of course, the spokespeople for Covered California get paid to put a positive spin on things. They were selling the same "tremendous interest" line back in November when the enrollment numbers were weak.

So, if you've kept track, that's two states (Kentucky, California) where we don't know if the surge has continued and three (Washington, Connecticut, New York) where it is at least arguable that enrollment is down from December levels. Significantly, there is not a single state mentioned in the piece which proves the premise that the December surge is continuing into 2014. That may be the case somewhere or may prove to be in the next few weeks, but as of now the Reuters piece seems like wishful thinking.


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