BREAKING NEWS: Water is Wet, FOX News is Full of Hooey

Hat Tip To: 

(sigh) I debated whether to respond to the latest nonsense spewed forth by FOX News' Jim Angle (he's their "chief national correspondent", don'cha know?), since I've already pre-debunked (pre-bunked??) pretty much every mouse pellet that he drops in this article, but what the hell:

President Obama’s claim last spring that 8 million people had enrolled in ObamaCare recently got a significant downgrade from the head of the agency overseeing the plan.

  • STOP: No one enrolls "in" ObamaCare. They enroll in either a commercial healthcare policy via a healthcare exchange providede for by the Affordable Care Act or they enroll in Medicaid or CHIP thanks to provisions within the Affordable Care Act.
  • No, Tavenner did not give a "significant downgrade". She was actually quite happy (and rightly so) to report that a good 90% or so of ACA QHP enrollees have paid their first month's premium and continue to do so from month to month.

Go on...

As Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, explained, "it’s not enough to sign up. You have to sign up and pay on a regular basis to really be enrolled."

That is one reason both state and private insurance officials have been saying their enrollments were shrinking.

  • STOP: Actually, no. Some insurance companies have been saying that their enrollments are shrinking, that's true. Others have been saying that their enrollments are increasing. That's called "the Invisible Hand of the Market®". However, non-payment of the first month's premium can not result in "enrollments" shrinking, since (as was just noted), if you never pay your first month's premium, you're not actually enrolled in the first place (which was one of the biggest battle cries from the GOP throughout last spring). Enrollments can only shrink from the number that they started out at, which was roughly 7.2 million as of May 2014, give or take. Remember how you kept screaming that the "8 million" figure was a "lie" at the time??

I'm sorry; you were saying?

"They've deteriorated quite a bit, this was anticipated to some degree, but I think it's exceeded expectations in some cases," said Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

For instance, state officials in Florida say their enrollments are now 220,000 lower than the administration's count in April, going from some 983,000 to just over 762,000, a drop of more than 20 percent.

  • STOP: As I noted last month, the actual number who paid their first premium was only around 884K to begin with, so 762K is only a 14% net reduction over a 2 month period, or about 7% per month. This is certainly fairly high...but other states such as Maryland have reported as low as a 0.33% monthly attrition rate. Overall it appears to be around 2-3% per month, which was normal and expected.

Robert Laszewski, of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, said, "I've talked to a number of insurance companies around the industry and they're indicating that they're down as low as 70 percent of the original enrollments they had."

  • STOP: Again, this is mixing together those who never paid up in the first place with those who have subsequently dropped their coverage after the first month, which are two different things. If 100 people sign up, 90 of them pay and 70 of them are still enrolled 4 months later, that's not a 30% reduction; that's a 13% reduction over 4 months, or about 3.2% per month.

In fact, Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, the nation's third largest insurer, said recently that his company had 720,000 people sign up for exchange coverage as of May 20, but only 600,000 turned out to be paying customers.

He added he expects that number to fall to "just over 500,000" by the end of the year. That would leave Aetna's paid enrollment down some 30 percent from its original sign-up numbers.

  • STOP: (sigh) Again, as I noted back in August, this is nonsense. Aetna said that they started out with 580,000 paying customers as of 5/20, not 600,000...although in their official testimony before Congress, they gave the payment rate as "low to mid-80%" range as of 2 weeks earlier, which would indeed be around 600K; not sure how the number who paid dropped by 18K over a 2 week period, but whatever...
  • ...which means that you have to divide 500K by 580K (or 600K), which gives you a 17% drop by the end of the year, or around 2.4% per month. Again: Right in the range I've been expecting, and hardly worth worrying about, since at that point the 2nd Open Enrollment period starts up again.

The Congressional Budget Office is predicting 13 million total enrollments at the end of the next open enrollment in February 2015. So the number they're starting from makes a big difference:

"If we've got closer to 6 million enrolled," Laszewski said, "they'd have to enroll more people in 2015 than they did this past year."

  • STOP: To their "credit", FOX has actually closed with a technically true statement (one of the only ones in the article)...but based on the data provided to date that's still a pretty big "if". The number of enrollments as of April 19th was 8.02 million. The number currently enrolled and paying as of August 15th was 7.30 million. Assuming a 2% average attrition rate including the 9,000 additional people who are enrolling daily during the off-season, we should be at around 7.6 million enrolled by mid-November. Assuming 3% per month, it should be at around 7.1 million. Heck, even if it was as high as 5% per month we would still be at 6.2 million by 11/15.