‘Probably good enough’: Enrollment numbers force White House to walk back Obamacare projections

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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White House health-care adviser Zeke Emanuel’s claimed Tuesday that the latest Obamacare enrollment numbers — which show far fewer young, healthy people signing up than initially projected — are “probably good enough.”

Emanuel spoke with MSNBC’s Richard Lui on Tuesday about the new statistics, which show just 24 percent of Obamacare enrollees are aged between 18 and 34. The White House previously claimed they would need 40 percent of these “young invincibles” to buy insurance through the federal exchange, warning that costs could quickly spiral out of control without healthy people paying into the system.

But when Lui asked what number they would need to make Obamacare work, Emanuel sang a markedly different tune. “Actually, at about a quarter it’s probably good enough,” he asserted. “But you would like to see more of them come in for two reasons. One is the pool — to make sure you have enough healthy people balancing off older and sicker people.”

“But also for their own benefit,” he continued. “I mean, remember, one of the reasons we’re interested in health care and health insurance for people is to make sure they get some preventive test, but also to make sure if a disaster happens — they get in an accident, they get appendicitis — they have coverage. So it’s a benefit to them.”

Lui wouldn’t let Emanuel off the hook just yet:

LUI: Why do you say 24 percent is “good enough”? What’s “good enough” mean?

EMANUEL: Well, the real question here is, is the pool the right mix between healthy and sick? It’s not really an age-related question, it’s the amount of utilization that will keep premiums down, that you won’t get so many people using so many services that premiums will have to go up next year and dissuade people from buying insurance because it’s too expensive. So you want healthier people, and young people tend to be healthier, that’s why we’re focused on young people.

What we actually don’t know is the real number, which is what proportion of this group is pretty healthy and isn’t going to use that much resources and it’s really a safety valve, versus what proportion have chronic illness and are probably gonna use a lot of resources. That’s the real number we want. That’s the number we don’t have. But studies have shown that about 24 percent would be pretty good. You would like it, again, up and we’d like it — everybody would like I think — as many Americans to be insured as possible.

With the tough questions now over, Liu launched into a full-throated defense of the new enrollment numbers. The MSNBC host noted that some states are coming in above the 24 percent — including New York, where 30 percent of sign ups came from young people.

“The fact that some states like New York can really get to a very high number suggests that there is latent interest,” Emanuel agreed. “And what we really have to do is stimulate that interest, advertise and really inform these people that they’re going to get cheap rates because of the subsidies. And that’s something that almost all the polling suggests they still haven’t fully absorbed.”

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Tags : obamacare
Brendan Bordelon