'But What Are the True Numbers?!': Cancelled Health Care Plans Edition

This article is from the archive of our partner .

A new Health Affairs studies shows that most people with cancelled Obamacare plans were probably going to cancel the policies themselves, due to high turnover in the individual marketplace. 

Several conservatives, including House Speaker John Boehner, have argued that Obamacare left 5 million to 6 million people uninsured due to cancelled plans. Past reports have shown that, due to the "keep your plan" fix and the insurers directing people into new plans, most of those people did not go uninsured.

Health Affairs. 

But the Health Affairs study, which used Census data to measure insurance rates between 2008 and 2011, paints a clearer picture of the market: only 42 percent of individuals kept their individual plans for a full year. Most people with non-group, individual market plans who experienced coverage changes didn't return to the individual market, but regained insurance through an employer. "Fifty percent had employer-sponsored insurance, 20 percent had regained nongroup coverage, 6 percent had Medicare or Medicaid, and 4 percent had other coverage. The remaining 20 percent were uninsured a year into the study period," according to the study. That implies that pre-Obamacare individual market plans weren't a permanent source of insurance — people use them, say, when they're between jobs.

The results "suggests that the nongroup market was characterized by frequent disruptions in coverage before the ACA and that the effects of the recent cancellations are not necessarily out of the norm." The study acknowledges that those who are "older than thirty-five, white, or self-employed" were the most likely to keep their plans for three years of longer, and likely couldn't keep plans they liked. But it also notes that the cancelled plan controversy "suffered from a lack of clear evidence." That pretty much sums up the entire political debate over Obamacare.

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Obamacare opponents have been using the "lack of clear evidence" argument to challenge the enrollment numbers. This is a common email:

A less polite example:

It's fair to argue that not everyone has paid their first month premium. Rep. Kevin McCarthy has also argued that we should be diligently tracking who has paid their second and third month premiums. The Congressional Budget Office estimates 6 million people will be enrolled in private plans throughout the year when you account for people not paying premiums and people who enroll later in the year due to qualifying life events, like pregnancy or divorce. Outside of such events, however, people won't be able to enroll in Obamacare until later this year, something Republicans are already outraged over

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.