Early Obamacare data to signal how many still waiting to enroll

Sun Nov 10, 2013 7:09am EST
 
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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON Nov 10 (Reuters) - The Obama administration will release healthcare enrollment numbers for Obamacare's rocky October rollout this week that could be more important for what they fail to say, than for what they do.

President Barack Obama's Democratic administration, which is under intense pressure from Republicans to release the data, has signaled that the total will be low after weeks of technical problems with the federal website, HealthCare.gov.

But that will only underscore the huge number of people believed to be waiting for a chance to obtain benefits, according to policy experts and congressional aides.

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA, aims to provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans. It mandates that most Americans at least be enrolled for health insurance by March 31 or pay a fine.

Analysts say the October number should offer an early indication of whether Obama's landmark health initiative is proving more popular with poor people who qualify for Medicaid or with working-class families eligible for subsidized private insurance through new online marketplaces that have been set up in all 50 states.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the Senate Finance Committee last week that the early tally would be "very low," and that the data would break out the numbers for states and show how many enrolled in private insurance plans versus expanded Medicaid programs.

But administration officials have not said whether the data will provide clues to other important questions, including whether young healthy adults, needed by insurers to offset older people with higher health costs, are eager to obtain coverage.

A small sign-up number, particularly one dominated by Medicaid enrollment, would be seized upon by Republican critics as evidence that the law is a failure that must be delayed or overhauled before it leads to wider problems within the $2.9 trillion U.S. healthcare system.   Continued...