Enrollment count in federal health care law padded, House panel says
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration recently inflated Affordable Care Act enrollment statistics by as many as 400,000 people by including stand-alone dental plans in its official count, according to an Oversight House committee investigation.
The administration in September said 7.3 million people at the time were enrolled in health plans through the federal health care law’s insurance marketplaces.
The House investigation, first reported by Bloomberg, found that this number also counted people enrolled in just dental coverage, a change from how previous enrollment figures have been counted that the Obama administration did not disclose. Without counting those dental plans, enrollment in so-called Obamacare would have been 6.97 million.
That 7.3 million figure reported by the Department of Health and Human Services was down from the 8 million people who had signed up through the end of April. HHS has not provided a comprehensive accounting of why enrollment fell — such as how many people did not pay their premiums or whether those enrollees found another source of coverage.
On Thursday, after news of the House investigation broke, the administration said its total was “erroneously counted” in recent announcements.
HHS said it made this mistake twice. The agency overstated its September figures by about 400,000. Then in November, it reported an inaccurate figure again when it said 7.1 million people were enrolled at the time; the actual figure was 6.7 million.
“The mistake we made is unacceptable,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “I will be communicating that clearly throughout the ⅛department.”
Despite these corrected figures, HHS said it still aims to have 9.1 million covered in marketplace plans next year, which is about 4 million people fewer than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had projected for 2015.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, accused the Obama administration of trying to obscure the number of people who had dropped out of the ACA insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, during the year.
HHS has been especially stingy about providing enrollment data. Reporters have constantly pushed the department for more up-to-date information, and the answer from HHS is usually the same: The agency can’t provide real-time information because it needs to make sure all the data it’s putting out is clean. Meanwhile, some states running their own insurance marketplaces provide much more regular performance updates — like Massachusetts, which releases one every day.