The administration's first Obamacare enrollment report since the end of open enrollment in March dropped this afternoon, and much of what it reports is information we already knew.
The administration is still touting 8 million sign-ups—technically 8.019 million—when the official open enrollment period of October 2013 through March 2014 is combined with stragglers who came in during the special enrollment period through April 19.
It's still the case that just 28 percent of those sign-ups were between the ages of 18 and 34, far short of the administration's target of 39 percent. State-by-state variation remains significant, with some states seeing robust sign-up activity and others posting relatively weak numbers. Health and Human Services Secretary Katheleen Sebelius is still claiming that the law's requirement that insurers carry adult dependents up to the age of 26 has insured 3 million people, and that's still not true.
And, as before, it's still not clear how many of these sign-ups have actually paid—or will pay—their first month's premium, and are therefore completely enrolled in coverage. Not that this uncertainty is hampering the administration's boasts. On Twitter, HHS Secretary Sebelius has posted HealthCare.gov-branded graphics saying that 8 million are enrolled through the exchanges. Sebelius should read her own agency's report. It states quite clearly that "it is important to note that the Marketplace plan selection data as of the end of the open enrollment period do not represent effectuated enrollment (e.g., those who have paid their premium)."
As I noted this morning, Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce (E&C) Committee requested payment information from insurers participating in the exchanges, but the numbers the Committee produced are of limited value. The Committee report found that just 67 percent of sign-ups so far had signed up in the federal marketplace as of April 15. But lots of those people have until the beginning of May, when their coverage kicks in, to pay. For some, the deadline is even later.
Still, the E&C Committee report makes one wonder why the administration hasn't bothered to release information about payment rates themselves. White House officials have said that insurers are the ones with the data, because the exchange transaction ends with the sign-up, but that doesn't explain why he administration could not have obtained and released it, with context about payment deadlines, on their own.
Back in November, an anonymous administration official told The Washington Post that collecting this information wasn't realistic. "To determine payment information," the official said, "you're talking about tracking down information from a large number of different insurance companies in 50 different states plus DC, all with different regulations and procedures, which makes collecting payment information implausible at this point."
Implausible! Practically impossible! Well, apparently it's not that hard, at least within the federal exchange network that covers 36 states, because Republicans in the House seem to have managed to do it without too much difficulty. Surely the White House, which is working closely with the insurers operating in the exchanges and which is supposed to be building a system to track crucial insurer payment information, could get these numbers from participating health plans.
Instead, the White House is trying to have it both ways, with Press Secretary Jay Carney essentially arguing earlier today that the GOP Committee report is wrong, but that the administration doesn't have the information to release. "We dispute these numbers, we don't have hard concrete numbers, but we dispute [the GOP numbers]," he said. Basically: We don't have the information, but we know theirs isn't right.
Because of the payment deadlines and the lack of state exchange data, the GOP House Committee report is certainly incomplete, and it's of limited value as a result. Yet thanks to the White House's unwillingness to be transparent and release its own information, it's still, frustratingly, the best data we have.
*This post has been updated.