About one in five Obamacare enrollees never paid their first month premium, meaning they weren't actually insured in January, The New York Times reports. Insurance providers across the country say anywhere from 70 to 95 percent of customers managed to pay their premiums by extended, mid-January deadlines. But in some cases, 25 to 30 percent of would-be enrollees — enrollees the government has been counting in its enrollment numbers — missed even extended deadlines.
This comes just two days after the Obama administration reached its first monthly enrollment target in January, signing up 1.146 million individuals when they expected 1.059 million. The administration has said it doesn't know how many people have paid since they haven't finished building the back end of the exchange (the part that pays insurers). But if, across the board, 20 percent of people haven't paid their premiums, then January enrollments would be under 1 million.
There are a few reasons people could be skipping out on their payments. They received the invoice late, or not at all. They couldn't get through on the phone lines. They spent the money on something else. Or, and this is the reason detractors of the health law will latch on to, they decided they just didn't want it.
If the reason is missing invoices, which is the most likely culprit, the federal government is mostly to blame. Payment deadlines were extended to the last minute to early January, and many insurers had trouble keeping up. As The Wall Street Journal reported in December:
Normally, insurers require payment for coverage before the coverage begins. They count an enrollment as complete only when the first month's premium has been received from a customer. As of (December 30), however, only about half of enrollees billed for plans offered by more than 100 insurers in 17 states had paid their first month's premium.
That problem continued into January. California's KQED reported in early January on people who'd yet to receive an invoice in the days leading up to Covered California's January 15 payment deadline.
Obamacare detractors have a different explanation for the ghost enrollments. Earlier this week, insurance industry sources told Fox News the numbers were "inflated" and estimates that anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of overall enrollments weren't real. Here's how Fox explained it:
Scenarios for not paying include people who went through the struggles of logging on to HealthCare.gov and eventually decided it was not worth it to go through the final steps of payment, and others who may simply not be able to afford the premiums.
But for now any explanation is just speculation. Eventually the Obama administration will have to answer all of our enrollment questions, like how many people were actually uninsured before Obamacare, and how many people actually paid their first premium. The answers won't be flattering to Obamacare, but the current approach — presenting all 3.3 million enrollments as the real deal — is going to come back to haunt them in the coming months.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.