The Truth Behind the Latest Obamacare Enrollment Numbers

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell wants Americans to know that Obamacare has never been better. On a call with reporters last week, Burwell enthusiastically touted the record number of people enrolling in the government-run healthcare exchange as proof that Americans “don’t want to go backwards.”

But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that the rosy numbers the administration is touting only tell half the story and cannot mask the disappointment that is Obamacare.

For starters, the current enrollment numbers (approximately 20 million) fall well short of the 32 million the administration expected to have by this time. Instead, many Americans are staying away from the exchange even with threats looming of levying fines on individuals that go uninsured. Worse yet for supporters, the people staying away are those the exchanges needs to remain solvent: the young and the healthy.

Folks like Louis Lucero, a 40-year-old living in Tucson, Arizona, who is considering dropping out of the Obamacare exchange if healthcare premium costs don’t come down. The reality for many like Lucero is that even with generous government subsidies, paying for health insurance is incredibly expensive.

Beyond lackluster enrollment, there are also questions about the way the administration is determining the number of those signing up for the exchange. According to reports, the administration is relying on surveys, rather than data from insurers that could provide a more accurate picture. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reckons that the actual numbers may look closer to just over 14 million people gaining coverage from the end of 2013 to the end of 2015. “Of those 14 million,” Heritage notes, “11.8 million gained their insurance through Medicaid and 2.2 million through private coverage.”

The people staying away are those the exchanges needs to remain solvent: the young and the healthy

If correct, these numbers are stunning and would call into question the need to enact Obamacare in the first place. Why not expand Medicaid instead? Of course, this is already happening under Obamcare — and not without problems.

“The ACA’s Medicaid expansion was controversial for many reasons, including relatively poor health outcomes for enrollees, large crowd-out of private coverage, reduced incentives to work, and crowd-out of other state priorities such as education, infrastructure, and adequate funding of public sector pensions,” explained Brian Blase, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank at George Mason University. As Brian Blase, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center, explains:

Still, supporters are determined to tout the 20 million plus number of Obamacare beneficiaries as proof of the legislation’s success, even if most of those people enrolled through Medicaid.

Republicans know this, which is why many of them have been working on ways to not only repeal Obamacare in the coming year, but also replace the flawed legislation with an alternative that will provide consumers with greater choice of quality health insurance at half the cost using market forces instead of government coercion. One Republican to watch is Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee that has jurisdiction over health care and tax policy.

In a recent op-ed to explain the contours of an Obamacare alternative, Brady described it this way:

“Think of our plan like a health care backpack. One filled with the tools you need to control your health care in the 21st century. One that goes with you from job to job, state to state, home to raise a family or start a businesses, and into your retirement years if you like it.

You decide what to put in the backpack. You control it. And you take it with you throughout your life.”

Obamacare supporters would like us to believe that the president’s signature legislative achievement is going swimmingly and Republicans have no ideas when it comes to providing health insurance to Americans that need it. Look past the spin and the reality is much different.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.