During a stop at a coffee shop in Minneapolis Wednesday, Vice President Biden said problems with Obamacare enrollment meant the final tally could be lower than expected.
“Initially we talked about by the end of this period having seven
million people lined up. We may not get to seven, we may get to five or
six, and that’s a hell of a start,” Biden said.
The seven million figure was originally a CBO estimate of the number of people who would enroll between October 2013 and this March. The Obama administration adopted this as a goal in public statements. However problems with the exchange website which allow people to buy insurance meant enrollments were extremely slow in the first two months.
Earlier this month the CBO revised its estimate of the total enrollment in private health plans downward to 6 million. Biden’s impromptu remarks Wednesday mark the first time any administration figure has publicly suggested enrollment could be significantly lower than even the revised CBO estimate.
Last week, HHS announced enrollment had reached 3.3 million. But multiple reports have suggested that roughly 20 percent of those HHS considers “enrolled” (by virtue of selecting a plan in their online account) never paid their first premium. Deadlines were extended into late January to allow those people more time to pay but many did not follow through. So hundreds of thousands of people HHS is currently touting as enrolled were never really enrolled.
The Obama administration says it can not give out more reliable enrollment figures because the portion of the website that would allow them to track payments to insurers has not been built yet. This flaw in the system also means it is possible HHS is double counting some people who “enrolled” before December, never paid a premium, had their plan cancelled and then re-enrolled in January.
As for Biden’s suggestion that 5 million would be a “hell of a start” that is debatable. Obamacare’s grandfathering regulations led to nearly 5 million cancelled policies last year. Many of the people currently being counted as enrolled under Obamacare were simply replacing coverage they lost. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that “at least two-thirds” of people who signed up by the end of December had been previously insured.
Biden also offered an explanation for the disappointing numbers during his stop in the coffee shop, “We didn’t want this to start off as shaky as it did, but it’s complicated.” That statement echoes one President Obama made last November. Obama said, in a speech taking blame for the rollout failure, “buying health insurance is never going to be like buying a song on
iTunes. You know, it’s just a much more complicated transaction.”