The Obama administration told congressional Republicans to ask insurers who paid for insurance, so they did. The result was the House Energy and Commerce committee's incomplete and misleading survey, which found that 67 percent of Obamacare enrollees have paid premiums. It's inaccurate, but also the best data we have. Until the White House gifts us all with a detailed report of how many people have paid, all we have is this report that doesn't account for anyone from the state-run exchanges, or those who enrolled last minute through Healthcare.gov.
The committee report found that 2.45 million people — 67 percent of Obamacare enrollees using the federal exchange — have paid their premiums and are actually enrolled. The report admits to its shortcomings without acknowledging how critical those shortcomings are. It only counts the federal exchange, and not the millions of Americans who enrolled through state-run exchanges. More importantly, it only counts people who paid by April 15. Some April payments weren't due until yesterday, two weeks after the committee's cutoff date.
Despite those caveats, the report argues that its 67 percent figure is accurate, and only 25 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds have paid. It's worth noting that by several accounts there was a surge in youth enrollment near the end of the period — many of the payments that are likely younger. The problem is, no one can say for sure because all we've got to go on is the GOP report.
Instead the Obama administration argued that several insurers have said 80 or 90 percent of enrollees have paid. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Erin Shields Britt added that some payments aren't due yet.
That was not the response we were hoping for. Some commenters anticipated that this report might force the administration's hand with their numbers. "If they attack the Republican report as inaccurate, it will be an implicit acknowledgement that they have numbers that they aren’t releasing. So their choice is either to stay silent and let the GOP-obtained data fill the news vacuum, or release detailed enrollment data," Philip Klein of the conservative The Washington Examiner writes. "It’s way past time for them to come clean." Jeffrey Young at The Huffington Post tweeted "The GOP's 'But how many people have paaaiiid??' report seems incomplete, but the administration could fix that by releasing the data it has." ProPublica's Charles Ornstein tweeted, "In the next couple weeks, @CMSGov needs to release figures, by plan, by state, of enrollment in Obamacare and who paid. #transparency... In vacuum without hard data, people create their own facts."
Transparency is the key issue here. The GOP report isn't necessarily informative, but it does prove that it's not impossible for HHS to ask the insurers to tell them who has paid as they wait for their back-end system — which would help communication between the administration and insurers — to work. Until the administration releases their own official numbers, the GOP's incomplete survey is the best data we have. In the absence of the official data, we're living with the GOP's facts.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.