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The Obama Administration is trying desperately to burnish the record of the President’s signature “achievement”, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare.  That’s a tall order, unless the subject is the ACA’s remarkable triumph for excellence in high cronyism. Otherwise, little wonder that they tell only part of the Obamacare story. Robert Laszewski recently examined ACA’s enrollment in more detail and found the record rather dismal. He notes the following:

… the Obama administration is just reporting the good news and a good share of the press appears to be happy to pass these numbers along–albeit in a technically correct but hardly complete way.

Here are two examples provided by Laszewski:

  • The Rand Corporation reported that a net total of 16.9 million people were newly enrolled through February 2015. This was picked up by the press, which attributed the increase to Obamacare. But only 4.1 million of those newly insured came from the individual marketplaces (as noted by Rand). Most of those eligible for coverage through the marketplaces have not enrolled. Most of those who have enrolled were qualified for subsidies. Another 6.5 million came from Medicaid, which is free to those who qualify for that program. 9.6 million came from employer-provided plans, which has much to do with improved hiring over the past two years, as opposed to the ACA.
  • There were almost 950,000 new enrollees during the “special enrollment period” (after open enrollments ended) this year. This was heralded by the media, but little was said about the 1.3 million who dropped off the Obamacare rolls by the end of March. That number will grow once the administration comes clean on the number who have dropped coverage since then.

From Laszewski:

The Obamacare insurance exchanges aren’t enrolling anywhere near the number of people they were supposed to. And, there is no proof Obamacare has grown since the close of open enrollment. In fact the anecdotal and historical evidence would suggest it is now shrinking.

Going forward, the prospects for ACA enrollment are not good. As Slate belatedly reported last month, substantial premium increases are expected for 2016. The Heartland Institute‘s “Somewhat Reasonable” blog reports that “Millions of Americans Refuse to Buy Obamacare, Prefer to Pay Penalty“. The total who have refused is 7.5 million, much more than expected, while another 12 million people have claimed that they are exempt from the ACA’s requirements. Obamacare pricing and subsidies contain perverse incentives. It remains to be seen whether the insurers dominating the exchanges will have a sufficient number of young, healthy individuals enrolled and paying inflated premiums to offset the claims of more heavily-subsidized, high-risk enrollees.

There are many other problems plaguing Obamacare, including limited access to health care providers for many enrollees. Reason.com recently asked whether Obamacare is simply too complex to work, a question based largely on the findings of an HHS Inspector General’s report. There are massive issues related to verification of eligibility for subsidies and back-end payment systems for compensating insurers:

Think of it this way: Before Obamacare, the U.S. health system was like a giant tangled knot. If you’ve ever tried to untangle a big knot, you know that it can take a while, and that the trick is to patiently loosen one bit at a time.

Obamacare’s designers, in contrast, saw that they couldn’t undo the knot, so they added more string, and tied it into the knot that was already there. Now it’s an even bigger mess.

The so-called Obamacare success story is wishful thinking and shameless propaganda. It has failed to accomplish its goals in terms of coverage and especially cost, it has resulted in lost coverage to millions in the individual market who “liked their plans”, and it has caused millions of others who “liked their doctors” to lose their doctors. Things are not looking any rosier as we approach the implementation of the employer mandate (which was delayed twice) in 2016.

There are many ideas in play for improving health care coverage and access post-Obamacare. Here are summaries of the plans floated so far by Republican Presidential candidates Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. Though neither plan is a detailed as I’d like, some of the proposed high-level features are promising, at least relative to the ACA. There will be more proposals from other candidates before long. I’m hopeful that they will all remember to let markets work.