Obamacare's upside surprise: Off-exchange sign-ups boost enrollment trends

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Article Highlights

  • Off exchange enrollment could be as high as 20% according to one Wall Street analyst.

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  • HHS has routinely cooked the Obamacare numbers it releases.

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  • Off-exchange enrollees [could] offset the number of people who sign up on the exchange, but will never pay their first premium.

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HHS has been purposely inflating the enrollment numbers that they publish on Obamacare, which makes one of their omissions odd. They have made no estimate of the number of people signing up off the exchanges.

These enrollments are giving a boost to Obamacare’s sign up trends, and will represent an upside surprise on the final tally in March. That makes it all the more strange that the Obama Administration doesn’t make mention of these customers. Maybe it would draw unwanted scrutiny to the protracted woes with the web site.

Off exchange enrollment could be as high as 20%, according to one Wall Street analyst. If that holds true nationwide, these enrollees would probably offset the number of people who sign up on the exchange, but will never pay their first premium (and thus never be truly enrolled).

Off exchange enrollments are people who go directly to insurance companies to enroll, bypassing the exchanges altogether. Since the web portals weren’t working at the outset, a large number of people chose this direct route.

The one data point we have on “off exchange” enrollment trends comes from Highmark, which recently announced that 31% of the 133,000 people it has enrolled across the three states where it operates (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware) signed up off exchanges.

WellPoint has also said that about 20% of its applications came off exchanges, from customers going directly to the insurer.

The off-exchange enrollment trends might include more people who previously had health coverage in the individual market, and thus knew how to go directly to insurers to shop for policies. Nonetheless, HHS has routinely cooked the Obamacare numbers it releases. Yet they seemed to have missed this data point.

Go figure.

You can follow Dr. Scott Gottlieb on Twitter @ScottGottliebMD. For more from the AEI health policy team, follow @AEIHealth.

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