HHS Confirms 2.1M Private, 3.9M Medicaid, House Report Hits 5M Cancelled Claim

In a conference call earlier today, the HHS announced a few things, most of which I already knew, but a few new items. First, they confirmed the 2.1M private enrollment figure which ACASignups has been projecting for a week now (my original prediction was 2.0M by 12/24 and up to 2.3M by midnight tonight, but that was before several states extended their enrollment deadliens; I changed this to 2.1M who will have their coverage start on January 1st).

They also confirmed the 3.9M Medicaid/CHIP enrollments through 11/30 (not surprising since I had already gotten that number from them anyway) and the 3.1M "Under-26'ers" on their parents plans thanks to the ACA.

To be honest, there wasn't a whole lot of new information given out.  The most interesting news is that they've gotten both CVS and Walgreens to agree to some sort of special "transitional phase policy" regarding prescriptions and other pharmacy transcations; the gist of it is that for a short period of time (A week? Two weeks? They didn't specify), you'll be able to get prescriptions filled and so forth from CVS or Walgreens as long as you provide some sort of proof of your insurance coverage, even if it's not in their regular system yet. I didn't catch what sort of proof would be required, but this makes sense and is a smart move under the circumstances.

Otherwise, not a whole lot of useful info. Apparently HHS has some sort of "Cancellation Hotline" that they added a couple of weeks ago for people who's current policy is being cancelled, but I had to hunt down the number; it's 1-866-837-0677. Apparently only about 2,400 people have called it so far, which makes it sound like the "5M cancelled!" thing is overblown. On the other hand, while it's easy to find this link if you run a search on the HC.gov site, it's not like they have it in big bold numbers on the home page (which they should). Plus, they only launched it on 12/19, when most of the cancellation notices had already gone out before that, so this doesn't really mean much one way or the other.

White House ACA Policy Guy Phil Schiliro (not sure of his actual title), the same one who apparently mentioned me by name on MSNBC this morning (I haven't seen the footage yet), further noted that plenty of people have changed their policies (voluntarily or due to them being cancelled) every year in the past, long before the ACA was enacted. He referred to these as "transitional phases", and was really talking more about the transitions that hospitals, pharmacies and so on will be making and how they aren't that much different from what they've dealt with in the past (ie, yes, this will involve much bigger changes, but mainly in terms of degree).

They also had Julie Bataille, the Communications Director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) take some questions. Unfortunately, she had no new information about how many of the 2.1M enrollees have actually paid yet (which is a far smaller issue than anti-ACA folks are making it out to be, but is still useful to know), nor did she have any additional demographic breakdowns (ie, age groups or state breakdown), which means that, as far as I can tell, this site is still going to be the best source for that info until the next official HHS report sometime around January 10th or so.

The other Big Attack Point that came up repeatedly was the infamous "5M Cancelled!!" attack. They actually had a good answer for that and even made a brief reference to it--but it was mentioned so briefly and dismissively that I suspect most of those on the line missed the significance:

A new report from the minority staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has destroyed the foundation of that particular GOP claim. It projects that only 10,000 people will lose coverage because of the ACA and be unable to regain it — or in other words, 0.2 percent of the oft-cited 5 million cancellations statistic.

The gist of the report is that out of the 4.7 million who (supposedly) had their policies cancelled, half of them had their problem fixed by Pres. Obama's "1-year extension" policy change announced a few weeks back; 1.4 million will qualify for Medicaid or tax credits; and most of the rest qualify for some sort of catastrophic health plan. This doesn't mean that "5M (really 4.7M)" didn't have their plans "cancelled", but it does mean that all the hand-wringing about them losing coverage is mostly theatrics.

What this report doesn't answer is what number of the 9 million enrollees (2.1M private + 3.9M Medicaid/CHIP + 3M Under26'ers) enrollees were among that 4.7 million "cancelled" crowd, which is a reasonable question but not nearly the "gotcha" that those opposed to the ACA are making it out to be.

However, in my view, the more important question, which wasn't even asked, was how many people have been enrolling in ACA-compliant health insurance plans without doing so via the exchanges?

If this number is nominal, never mind. However, if it's more than a hundred thousand or so, that's potentially huge news which could completely change the enrollment math.

I'll have more on this soon (meant to get to this with the Iowa/Nebraska story but haven't had a chance to yet...crazy day...)