Rand Corp. Study: Mixed Verdict on Obamacare Enrollment

Thursday, 10 Apr 2014 03:44 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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A new study by Rand Corp. presents mixed findings in the reported Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers, suggesting that the picture painted by President Obama is not as rosy as he presented.

The study released Tuesday titled "Changes in Health Insurance Enrollment Since 2013," surveyed 2,425 nonelderly adults who had valid insurance coverage status in September 2013. Based on that sampling, Rand estimated that 9.3 million more Americans had healthcare coverage in March 2014.

Proponents of Obamacare, such as Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, want everyone to believe that "virtually all" of those 9.3 million insured are "as a result of the law."

But James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal points out that with a margin for error of plus or minus 3.5 million, a more accurate presentation of the Rand statistics would be that the "number of uninsured Americans has declined by between 5.8 million and 12.8 million with a 1 in 20 chance that the actual number is outside this range."

According to Rand numbers, there now 8.2 million more people with employer-sponsored insurance, an increase Taranto called "a bit of a surprise." Not as surprising, he said, was the finding of a net gain of 5.9 million enrollees in Medicaid given that the program was expanded under the Affordable Care Act and that it is free to recipients.

But according to Rand's estimate, only 3.9 million have insurance through the Obamacare marketplace, 3.2 million fewer than the 7.1 million "signups" President Obama claimed last week. In trying to explain the discrepancy, Rand claimed its survey period ended on March 28 and thus did not continue through the March 31 deadline to enroll in Obamacare.

"Our data were collected through March 28," Rand explains, but most participants "responded earlier in the month, and some may have made new insurance choices since participating in our survey."

Taranto acknowledged that might be true, but doubts that 3.2 million people signed up for healthcare over those three days, especially when Rand estimates that only 1.4 million people who were previously uninsured purchased coverage through the marketplace.

"The disparity between Rand's figure and the administration's," Taranto wrote, "gives reason to suspect that the latter is inflated."

Taranto does not believe that Rand's estimated growth in the number of Americans with employer-sponsored insurance "undermines the contention by the healthcare law's critics that the legislation gave employers an incentive to drop coverage," as Hiltzik proclaims in the Times.

According to HotAir.com, the Rand study shows "there are actually more people who had insurance through work last year and now have no insurance at all (2.1 million) than there are people who had no insurance last year and now have it through the exchanges (1.4 million)."

Even if the Obama administration's estimates are not inflated, Taranto also questions the viability of the individual marketplace, which is dependent on enrolling a young, healthy people paying inflated premiums to control prices. Preliminary data, however, are showing an older demographic majority than had been hoped for enrolling.

The New York Times reported that "people who signed up early for insurance through the new marketplaces were more likely to be prescribed drugs to treat pain, depression, and H.I.V."

According to that report, a study released by major pharmacy-benefits manager Express Scripts found early enrollees into Obamacare "face more serious health problems and are older than those covered by their employers. The study also showed a higher use of specialty drugs, which are often used to treat diseases like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis; the use of such drugs could hint at more costly medical problems."

Taranto argues that if the number of younger, healthier enrollees does not increase to the point where large premium increases can be avoided, than "marketplace policies will become even more unattractive, and those with employer-sponsored plans will guard them ever more jealously."

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