The disappointing Affordable Care Act (ACA) numbers the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released on Wednesday revealed that the law is working best in the states that are — shockingly — implementing the law as it was designed.
Of the 106,185 people who have completed an application for health insurance, nearly 75 percent came from 14 states and the District of Columbia that both set up their own exchanges and expanded Medicaid.
Unsurprisingly, California and New York combined for the bulk of the enrollments, 51,769. But the most promising news from the Golden State wasn’t even included in this report.
Peter Lee, the executive director of Covered California, reported Wednesday that as of Tuesday, 60,000 Californians had signed up for insurance. Signups have increased to a rate of almost 2,500 enrollees per day in November. At that pace, the state could be expected to enroll 402,500 people by March 31 but Lee says that he expects to hit a goal of 500,000 to 700,000 people by then, which means he expects the pace to pick up by at least 640 people a day to over 3,000 enrollees.
Lee’s optimism is linked to more than the enrollment numbers. It seems California’s consumers are happy with the state’s website.
“Overall, nearly 70 percent of consumers who completed the survey found the application process easy to complete, and 88 percent of customers visiting CoveredCA.com found the information needed to choose a health plan that was right for them,” Covered California reported in a statement released Wednesday, giving Republicans another reason to hope that California isn’t a bellwether for the rest of the nation.
Red Kentucky is the only state in the union that voted for Mitt Romney and set up its own exchange, thanks in large part to Democratic governor Steve Beshear. The state’s site signed up a total of 32,485 Kentuckians, with 5,586 enrolling in private plans, in its first month of operation. This reduces the state’s uninsured population —estimated at 640,000 — by just over 5 percent.
Of course, it’s not hard for the states to look impressive next to the federal number that is anemically low. And not all the states that set up their own exchanges have succeeded. Oregon’s marketplace is so flawed, they didn’t even have numbers to report for October.
Implementing health care reform was never supposed to be easy.
“It’s like fixing an airplane while it’s in flight, if there is something terribly wrong with the plane,” said Timothy Jost, a health law professor at Washington & Lee University and an expert on the ACA.
And that’s without the unprecedented campaign of sabotage the right has waged. But the obstruction that has threatened the law most has been the combination of a mostly unforced error — Healthcare.gov’s disastrous launch — and Republican states refusing to launch their own exchanges. While the right is thrilled they’ve assisted in this catastrophe, it was the ancillary result of another sabotage strategy that was either masterminded or enthusiastically encouraged by Michael Cannon.
“Cannon is a health care policy expert at the libertarian Cato Institute,” reports The New Republic‘s Alec MacGillis. “He is also an avowed opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and has for several years now been embarked on a legal crusade that, while a ways from triumphing, may have inadvertently played an outsized role in suppressing the number of states setting up their own exchanges, thereby greatly confounding the law’s implementation.”
Cannon believes he has found a loophole in the law that could end up undoing it in any state that didn’t set up an exchange. With that in mind, he helped successfully convince every state with a Republican governor to reject their right to build their own site.
By opting out, states made the success of the president’s signature legislative accomplishment dependent on one single portal that needed to reach its tentacles into three dozen complex insurance markets at one time.
That — it turns out — is a lot more complicated than the administration expected it to be.
The best state numbers show that the ACA can be implemented with participation rates that are in at least in the same ballpark as Massachusetts’ Romneycare or Medicare Part D.
And there were some other numbers in the HHS report that bode well for reform.
HHS reports that 26,876,527 different users accessed the site and 3,158,436 calls were made to its center. A total of 1,477,853 applications processed to the point of where eligibility could be determined. This shows that the demand for what the marketplace is offering definitely exists.
Clearly and undeniably, the fate of the law now depends most on one thing.
“The October report is clearly disappointing,” Timothy Jost wrote in his blog. “But the really important reports will be the December report, which will tell us how many will be enrolled for coverage that begins in January, and the March report, which will tell us how many will be enrolled for 2014. If healthcare.gov is up and running by December, there is every reason to believe those reports will be much more promising.”
AFP Photo/Karen Bleier