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The GOP's Latest Anti-Obamacare Talking Point Just Went Down In Flames

Brett LoGiurato
Barack Obama smile


Last week, the Republican-led House Committee on Energy and Commerce released information claiming only 67% of enrollees in insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act made their first premium payment. The data was paraded around as a talking point ahead of the Obama administration's final release of stats from the law's first open enrollment period.

On Wednesday, that talking point blew up.

Three of the country's largest insurers — Aetna, WellPoint, and  Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in several states — said between 80-90% of new customers who enrolled through Obamacare paid their first month's premiums. Executives from the companies announced the news in testimony before the very same House Committee on Energy and Commerce where Republicans touted the contrary data last week.

WellPoint said the number of customers who paid their premiums by the deadline was 90%. For Aetna, it was in the "low-to-mid 80s range." Health Care Service Corp. said their number was at least 83%. 

Since the Affordable Care Act's enrollment numbers ended up better than preliminary forecasts, Republicans, who initially wanted to make attacks on Obamacare a key part of their strategy in this year's midterm elections, latched onto the possibility that a good chunk of enrollees wouldn't pay their premiums. On Wednesday, the insurance executives directly criticized the House committee's previous study.

"WellPoint was pleased to provide the committee last month with enrollment data from Oct. 1, 2013, through April 15, 2014, for states where we participate in the Federally Facilitated Exchange. As we stated to the committee at the time of submission, this data is not final and only represents a snapshot in time," said Dennis Matheis, the vice president of  exchange strategies at WellPoint.

" As outlined in our prior submissions to the Subcommittee, these are dynamic figures and  do not reflect final enrollment numbers," added  Paul Wingle, the executive director of exchange operations and strategy at Aetna.

Insurers and health-policy observers blasted the House GOP's study upon its release last week, saying it was based on incomplete data — specifically from plans whose premium deadlines had not passed when the committee sent out its survey.

The committee surveyed insurers for the total number of enrollments and premium payments as of April 15. That number, insurers said Wednesday, was about 70%. However, the surge in April enrollment was not reflected. Almost 1 million plan enrollments occurred in April after the Obama administration extended the sign-up deadline for people who had already started the process. For those people, the first premium payment wasn't due on April 15, but the committee counted them as unpaid enrollees.

In essence, the House GOP's talking point will only be true if virtually none of the enrollees in April pay their premiums. That doesn't seem likely, given that insurers reported a steady premium payment percentage throughout the year. 

Here's a chart from  Health Care Service Corp.  The percentage of premium payments received from people covered through Obamacare exchanges was similar to those who were not:

Insurance chart

Health Care Service Corp.

Though the White House was quick to criticize the committee's report last week, the Department of Health and Human Services has yet to release figures of its own. Last week, a spokesperson said it doesn't plan to do so until "later this year."

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