Monday, September 1, 2014

Insurance exchange: Where are new numbers?

Two Republican senators have posed a good question:  What has happened to enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges since March?

Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee sent an open letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeking an update on enrollment numbers,  which were last reported as of the end of open enrollment March 31.  They want to know who has joined since then and who has fallen off the roster for reasons such as failure to pay premiums or provide documentation of their immigration status.

"With the next open enrollment period set to begin on November 15,  2014,  it is imperative that (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) provide Congress and the public with accurate information about the number of people who are enrolled in exchange coverage as well as the number of people who have cancelled coverage,"  their letter says.

That seems like a reasonable request.  I went looking for updates this summer when I wrote about special enrollment and hit the same wall.

During the 2014 open enrollment period,  HHS provided monthly updates on the number of people who had bought insurance through the federal and state exchanges set up to provide subsidized health insurance.  The most recent tally, posted May 1, showed just over 8 million enrolled through the exchanges and 4.8 million through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

After reading about Alexander's and Barrasso's request,  I went back to the department spokesperson Friday to see when we could expect an update.  The statement I got in reply:  "HHS issued monthly enrollment reports during the first marketplace open enrollment period in order to provide the best understanding of enrollment activities as it was taking place. Now that this time period has ended,  we will look at future opportunities to share information about the marketplace that is reliable and accurate over time as further analysis can be done but we do not anticipate monthly reports."

That,  of course,  is a non-answer.

I'm new to coverage of the Affordable Care Act,  but I've been reporting on public agencies for most of the last 33 years.  I can't think of an instance where withholding or delaying information is wise.  If the numbers show a problem,  it only delays the reckoning.  The perception of hiding something gives critics room to speculate and assume the worst.

So here's hoping the federal government provides a real answer soon.


Thomas said...

"Most transparent administration ever" That's another Obama lie. Information that they should be proud of is hard to get?