UPDATED at 2.54pm ET: Scroll to end of this article for the latest development in this story. After speaking directly with Chad Henderson, The Washington Post has confirmed that he has not in fact enrolled in a health-care plan.
Chad Henderson is the media’s poster boy for Obamacare. Reporters struggled this week to find individuals who said they had been able to enroll in one of the law’s 36 federally run health-insurance exchanges.
That changed yesterday, when they found Henderson, a 21-year-old student and part-time child-care worker who lives in Georgia and says that he successfully enrolled himself and his father Bill in insurance plans via the online exchange administered at healthcare.gov.
But in an exclusive phone interview this morning with Reason, Chad's father Bill contradicted virtually every major detail of the story the media can't get enough of. What's more, some of the details that Chad has released are also at odds with published rate schedules and how Obamacare officials say the enrollment system works.
The coverage of Chad Henderson has been massive. He was featured in The Washington Post Thursday as “the Obamacare enrollee that tons of reporters are calling.” He was also profiled in The Huffington Post as someone who “beat the glitches to sign up for Obamacare.” He was interviewed by Politico, multiple local news organizations, and, according to his Facebook feed, was asked to be part of a conference call hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Chad's story was tweeted out by the official Obamacare Twitter feed. It was promoted to the media by Enroll America, a health-care activist group headed by a former White House communications staffer, as a sign of Obamacare’s success. Henderson told reporters at multiple news outlets that after a three-hour wait to sign up online, he enrolled around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning in an unsubsidized private insurance plan that would cost him about $175 a month. He also said that his father enrolled in separate coverage plan that would cost about $250 a month after factoring in the subsidies for which his father qualified on his approximately $24,000 annual income.
Chad’s decision to purchase his own, separate plan might surprise some. A monthly premium of $175 would represent about 30 percent of his pre-tax take home pay—about $583 a month on the $7,000 part-time income he claimed. And he could have chosen to be covered by his father’s plan, which, under the Affordable Care Act, would have been required to cover dependents up to the age of 26. Chad said his father encouraged him to be covered under his own plan, even though the cost was higher. "He's old school, so he wants me to take responsibility," Chad told The Huffington Post.
Henderson’s story was promoted as proof that the new health law can work for individuals. That was exactly how Chad intended it. He was a volunteer with President Obama’s campaign last year, and his LinkedIn page still lists him as an active volunteer with Organizing for Action, the former campaign organization which now advocates for the president’s legislative agenda.
He told The Washington Post that he was sharing his story because he wanted the new health law to succeed.
"I've read a few articles about how young people are very critical to the law's success," he said to The Post. "I really just wanted to do my part to help out with the entire process."
But details of Chad's story proved difficult to verify. And in a phone interview conducted this morning, Chad’s father Bill contradicted major details of Chad’s story. I reached Bill Henderson by following a series of links at Chad's Facebook page, through which I was able to speak directly to the father.
Bill Henderson told me that both he and his son were interested in getting coverage, but that he had not enrolled in any plan yet, and to his knowledge, neither had his son. He also said that when they do enroll, getting the most coverage for the least money would be the goal, and that he expects that he and his son will get coverage under the same plan.
Bill told me that Chad had been looking into plans online. “He told me that there’s different plans. And we haven’t decided which plans to enroll in yet.”
I asked him whether he and his son had talked about going on separate plans, and he told me that, “We’ll probably go on the same plan, more than likely.”
Asked whether he had seen specific plan options yet, Bill said, “No, we haven’t looked over them that discrete yet. But it’s just different plans that he [Chad] has told me we’re going to go with. We’ll have to choose one of them.”
Bill told me that when he does enroll, his focus will be on getting value for money. “Whatever gets the most coverage for the least price,” is what Bill said he’s looking for in a plan.
Bill also said he hoped he’d qualify for subsidies through the health law. But he didn’t know yet if he would. “I’m hoping so,” he told me. “It’s a possibility.” As of yet, however, the pair had not picked a plan or completed enrollment. But he hoped they would shortly. “We’re going to be enrolling, and looking at it, you know, looking over everything. So we’re going to be deciding on what we’re going to do very soon.”
I found Bill's contact information through Chad Henderson's Facebook page. An update on October 1 reads "Enrolled in Obamacare" and links to Bill Henderson's Facebook page. Bill Henderson's Facebook page lists him as "Owner-Operator at Bill's Shaved Ice," and links to a Facebook page for his Shaved Ice stand, which includes a phone number. On the phone, Bill confirmed that he had a 21-year-old son named Chad.
Other details from Chad’s story were also difficult to verify. He said his premium was unsubsidized, and cost around $175 a month for the cheapest Bronze coverage plan available. He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he got his coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield. But the cheapest unsubsidized Bronze exchange plan at Blue Cross Blue Shield’s online Quick Quote system offers for a 21-year-old in Flintstone, Georgia is $225.09 a month.
Additionally, Chad could not have purchased a separate plan for his father from his own login to HealthCare.gov, the website for the federal exchanges. A customer assistance representative on HealthCare.gov’s LiveChat system told me that purchasing separate plans for a son and a father in Georgia would require two separate logins. Which means that Chad would have had to successfully create two different accounts, and complete enrollment twice, at a time when almost no one was able to get through on the system.
Chad seems to have sought out media attention for his story. He first said he had enrolled in coverage on the evening of October 1, in a tweet that also included the Twitter handles of local news organizations Times Free Press and WRCB.
That tweet was later referenced by OFA’s Tennessee branch, and the @Obamacare Twitter feed. Enroll America's digital director, Adam Stalker, noticed the Tweet and asked on Twitter whether Enroll America could share Chad's story. Chad excitedly charted the ensuing media attention on his Facebook page.
"The response to my story from earlier in the week has been overwhelming!," he wrote in a Facebook update last night. "Here's an update: I've now been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Huffington Post, Enroll America, and POLITICO!!"
Chad Henderson's story was picked up by the national media because of how difficult it was to find individual stories of successful enrollment in the federal health exchanges during the initial days of enrollment. It appears that reporters may have to keep looking.
Update (2.54pm ET): Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff writes that she "spoke with Chad over the phone about this situation. He told me that he has indeed not purchased coverage but doesn't believe he was lying. He said he told reporters that he completed an application for coverage and knows what plan he would like to purchase, but has not, as of yet, enrolled in that insurance plan." Read more here.