Obamacare sign-ups are old, and withholding payments, say consultants

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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There’s bad news hidden behind the White House’s latest optimistic Obamacare report.

Few people are actually paying for the healthcare plans that they’ve picked on the partially-fixed Obamacare website, say industry insiders.

Also, too few young people are joining the plans offered by companies using the Obamacare website, said Robert Laszewski, a plugged-in insurance consultant.

Older clients, aged above 40, comprise 60 percent of the new Obamacare customers at one of his client health-care companies, Laszewski told The Daily Caller.

The skew is “very, very bad,” said Laszewski, who is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, Inc.

The insurance companies need many young and healthy clients to offset the cost of providing benefits to older and sicker patients, he said. Any lack of young and healthy patients will drive up costs for older and sicker patients in 2014.

The White House’s goal is 2.7 million young people, out of 7 million expected customers, by April 1.

But White House spokesman Josh Earnest downplayed the demographic problem Wednesday.

No single piece of data can determine the plan’s success, he said, adding that  “our goal is to sign up as many people as possible.”

Precise predictions are impossible because the Obamacare system is so new, and executives do expect a surge of people to join in the next two weeks, Laszewski said.

But the apparent lack of young people “is a very poor omen,” Laszewski said.

The first deadline is Dec. 23. People who sign and up and send in their first checks by that date will be enrolled in Obamacare on Jan. 1.

President Barack Obama’s tax-and-healthcare plan has already cancelled insurance plans held by at least 4 million Americans. Many of the victims are professionals, such as journalists, who can influence the media and public opinion.

The administration issued a report Dec. 11 claiming that 365,000 people had selected commercial health care plans from state and local Obamacare websites by the end of November.

Prior to Oct. 1, officials expected 1.2 million to have signed up by the end of November.

The new administration report included much data, but was silent about the participation of younger and healthier people, and said nothing about the number of people who have signed contracts with healthcare companies, or paid their checks to the companies.

Executives in the business says the lack of payment checks is a bad sign, Laszewski said.

“I’ve been hearing the same concerns…. that a very small percentage of [Obamacare] clients have paid their plans,” he said.

“There is a growing concern” among executives, he said.

The worries are getting media exposure.

“So far I’m hearing from health plans that around 5% and 10% of consumers who have made it through the data transfer gauntlet have paid first month’s premium and therefore truly enrolled,” consultant Kip Piper told a reporter for ProPublica in New York.

“Payments are trickling in and while we expect an uptick over the next week, members have until January 6 to make this payment,” Mia Campitelli, a spokeswoman for Blue Shield of California told ProPublica.

The low payment rate is problematic, Laszewski said.

If people don’t pay their checks, “there is no work-around.. the enrollment they originally did is toast,” he said.

People who have signed up for insurance plans but don’t pay their premiums on time, have to start again, and may not have insurance coverage for a while, he said.

Administration officials may not know the number of people who have paid their checks, he said.

But because the Obamcare system is so new, experts can’t predict if the low number of checks, and the lack of young clients, will be a problem on January 1. Given the lack of data, he said, “I’m not drawing a conclusion.”

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Neil Munro