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The latest Obamacare facepalm: HHS not closely tracking enrollees who were uninsured


Love it or hate it, Obamacare was proposed and passed with a pretty laudable goal: Get everyone insured so no one lacks appropriate healthcare.

So the federal government would track the number of uninsured people who sign up, right?


Here's the National Journal on comments today at a conference from Gary Cohen, outgoing director of the Health and Human Services Department's implementation office

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the health care law will reduce the number of uninsured people by about 24 million over the next few years, and that about 6 million previously uninsured people will gain coverage through the law's exchanges this year. So, is enrollment on track to meet that goal? Overall enrollment is looking pretty decent, but how many of the people who have signed up were previously uninsured?

"That's not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way," Cohen told the insurance-industry crowd on Thursday when asked how many of the roughly 4 million enrollees were previously uninsured.

Considering the administration's failure to initially launch a halfway decent website to enroll people, perhaps the failure to track a core goal of the program is no shock.

But, as a result, outside groups are doing their own analysis on the uninsured sign-up rate, and it's not encouraging. The Washington Post reported today that just 10 percent of the uninsured who qualify for Obamacare plans have enrolled, according to surveys.

There's a possibility, then, that enrollment will be anemic overall and that only those previously uninsured who were very sick will sign up. Healthy people who don't want to pay for insurance might not enroll. So insurers would have to deal with what's known as "adverse selection" where high-cost people are being treated and there aren't enough low-cost people paying in to keep the insurance plans afloat. Plans won't fail in the short term. But there's a chance rates could rise, or plans could look as if they're in trouble.

And that could usher in another round of bad headlines for a program that has become, at times, a political albatross for President Obama's administration.

A few more snippets from The Post:

One of the surveys, by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., shows that, of people who had signed up for coverage through the marketplaces by last month, just one-fourth described themselves as having been without insurance for most of the past year....

The second survey, by researchers at the Urban Institute and based on slightly older data from December, shows that awareness of the new marketplaces is fairly widespread but that lower-income Americans and those who are uninsured are less likely to know about this new avenue to health coverage than other people.

“If there is one point to the law, it is to lower the number of uninsured,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy organization. “Ultimately, that has to happen for the law to be judged a success.”