Seriously, it’s Saturday and I shouldn’t be having to do this.* But the new bad news about Obamacare just keeps on coming.
So we’ll keep it short. The bad news: enrollees in Obamacare are mostly people who already had insurance. The first numbers coming in from brokers and insurance companies indicate that between 65% and 89% (depending on market) of the 2.2 million Obamacare-exchange enrollees through December are people who had previous coverage.
Going with the most optimistic figure, that would make 35% of the enrollees new insurance customers. That works out to 770,000. Which makes the cultural celebrations about Obamacare getting 35 million people newly outfitted with affordable coverage not just optimistic, not just exaggerated, but mindlessly idiotic.
(At the rate demonstrated so far – 770,000 per three-month period – it would take 11 years and 3 months to insure 35 million previously uninsured people. If the initial goal of 7 million Obamacare exchange sign-ups is met by the end of March 2014, at the 6-month mark, that rate of accretion for new insurance customers would mean 7 years and 2 months until there were 35 million newly insured. The months are rounded.)
Meanwhile, the worse news about Obamacare is that if Accenture, which just took over for CGI, can’t get the healthcare.gov site working properly by mid-March, the financial side of the system will be almost hopelessly messed up. The federal government will be very likely to make faulty, excessive subsidy payments, but also to not make the ones it should make. This, in turn, will leave insurance companies extremely uncertain about their financial situation. They could well record subsidy payments that will be withdrawn later. But they’ll also be waiting for subsidy payments to kick in for some legitimately eligible customers.
The consequences to customers are likely to be widespread and severe, as no one in the system – insurers, hospitals, doctors – has the pockets to simply cover all the potential risk. The pressure to make the taxpayer bail out this looming catastrophe could be intense.
Or, the Obama administration could just pretend it’s not happening and make false claims about it. It’s only lower- and middle-income sick people who will be harmed, after all – at least initially.
* Some of the last football of the season is on.