- Obama took a victory lap and took political shots at Republicans, but ignored shortcomings in his administration’s official numbers
- Press secretary Jay Carney will only say ‘we’re aggregating a lot of data’ when asked how many enrollees have paid for coverage
- Carney dodged questions about damning study that showed very few Obamacare customers were uninsured before the law took effect.
- Percentages from a hush-hush RAND Corporation study suggest barely 858,000 previously uninsured Americans have enrolled and paid premiums.
- HHS Secretary Sebelius met a televised challenge Monday about ‘unpopular’ Obamacare with lengthy awkward silence.
A triumphant President Barack Obama declared his signature medical insurance overhaul a success, saying it has made America’s health care system ‘a lot better.’ But buried in the 7.1 million enrollments he announced in a heavily staged Rose Garden appearance is a more unsettling reality.
Numbers from a RAND Corporation study that has been kept under wraps suggest that barely 858,000 previously uninsured Americans – nowhere near 7.1 million – have paid for new policies and joined the ranks of the insured by Monday night.
Others were already insured, including millions who lost coverage when their existing policies were suddenly cancelled because they didn’t meet Obamacare’s strict minimum requirements.
Still, he claimed that ‘millions of people who have health insurance would not have it’ without his insurance law.’
The president took no questions, from reporters, but celebrated the end of a rocky six-month open-enrollment period by taking pot shots at Republicans who have opposed the law from the beginning as a government-run seizure of one-seventh of the U.S. economy.
‘The debate over repealing this law is over,’ he insisted. ‘The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.’
The president also chided conservatives ‘who have based their entire political agenda on repealing it,’ and praised congressional Democrats for their partisan passage of the law without a single GOP vote.
‘We could not have done it without them, and they should be proud of what they’ve done,’ Obama boasted, in a clear nod to November’s contentious elections in which Republicans are expected to make large gains on an anti-Obamacare platform because of the law’s general lack of popularity.
White House press secretary Jay Carney stopped short of saying ‘I told you so,’ but chided a sparse press corps in the briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for ever doubting that the Obamacare system would enroll more than 7 million Americans.
‘At midnight last night we surpassed everyone’s expectations,’ he boasted, ‘at least everyone in this room.’
While he took great pains to emphasize that the total would grow – saying ‘we’re still waiting on data from state exchanges’ – he dodged tough questions about other statistics that reporters thought he should have had at the ready.
Those numbers included how many Americans have paid for their insurance policies, and are actually insured. Also, he had no answer to the thorny question of how few signups represented people who had no insurance before the Affordable Care Act took effect.
Aside from the issue of the numbers’ likely decrease when non-paying enrollments are taken into account, administration officials have been coy about the RAND Corporation study, which suggests that relatively few Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured.
‘What I can tell you is that we expect there to be a good mix of people who were previously uninsured who now have insurance,’ Carney said Monday.
‘Certainly, there’s a significant number who now have qualified for Medicaid in those states that expanded Medicaid who will have insurance who didn’t have it before.’
In addition to his claim of 7.1 million enrollments, Obama also announced that ‘three million young people’ under age 26 have gained coverage as add-ons to their parents’ policies. and ‘millions more … gained access throgh Medicaid expansion,’ he said.
But the Affordable Care Act carried with it the promise of covering ‘every American,’ and it appears to have fallen tremendously short.
The unpublished RAND study – only the Los Angeles Times has seen it – found that just 23 per cent of new enrollees had no insurance before signing up.
And of those newly insured Americans, just 53 per cent have paid their first month’s premiums.
If those numbers hold, the actual net gain of paid policies among Americans who lacked medical insurance in the pre-Obamacare days would be just 858,298.
Obama’s Rose Garden speech included an acknowledgement that the Affordable Care Act ‘has had its share of problems,’ and has at times been ‘contentious and confusing … That’s part of what change looks like in a Democracy.’
But ‘there are still no death panels,’ he joked amid laughter. ‘Armagedon has not arrived.’
Carney and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough distributed donuts to reporters in the press center on Tuesday morning – presumably without checking with the first lady – and eagerly pitched talking points to journalists writing about the milestone day.
But questions remain about the effectiveness and affordability of Obama’s plan, which he sold to congressional Democrats and the American people as a scheme to cover the uninsured, and about how the law is contributing to the spiraling cost of medical care.