The insurers speak: Yes, people are paying their Obamacare premiums

Things continue to get tough for the Obamacare dead-enders, those increasingly lonely opponents whose only comeback against the flow of good news about the Affordable Care Act is to conjure up absurd arguments against it (I mean you, Cato’s Michael Cannon) or, if all else fails, make stuff up.

That latter effort was put in the grave Wednesday by a panel of health insurance spokespersons summoned to Washington by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee, fans will recall, recently issued an utterly bogus report claiming that of all enrollees on the federal ACA website, only 67% had paid their first month’s premiums. That’s important because health insurance coverage isn’t official until the first payment is made.

As we reported, experts jumped all over the figure, pointing out that it overlooked that the payment deadline for a huge percentage of enrollees hadn’t been reached by the cut-off date for the committee’s survey, April 15, and that the due date for many others hasn’t been reached to this day.


The committee, vowing to get to the bottom of things, called the insurers to testify. Almost unanimously, they told the commitee: You’re all wet.

Their figures show that among enrollees whose due dates have passed, the payment rate is in the 80% to 90% range. That matches the consensus expectation among experts.

Some specifics:

--The giant health insurer Wellpoint says the payment ratio of enrollees whose premium date has already passed is “ranging up to 90 percent.”

--Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas, says its payment ratio on exchange plans ranges from 85% to 88% for policies with effective dates from Jan. 1 through March 1. On policies effective April 1, the ratio was 83%. On those effective May 1, the rate is 68%, but as the company’s witness said, the due date on many of those policies, which include a grace period, has not yet passed. This underscores the foolish mistake made in the committee’s original report.

--Aetna said that as of the third week of April, it recorded 600,000 enrollees, of whom 500,000 had paid. If you’re keeping score, that’s 83%. In general, the company said, the payment rate has kept to the “low- to mid-80 percent range.”

The best question about these figures came not from the committee members but from Greg Sargent of the Washington Post. “How many of those who madly hyped the 67 percent report,” he asked, “will even acknowledge the very existence of today’s insurance industry testimony?”

So far, my count is zero.

One other aspect of the collapse of anti-Obamacare arguments is worth noting: even fiscal conservatives have begun falling into line. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Government, one of Washington’s most reliable deficit scolds, on Tuesday issued an analysis acknowledging that the ACA has helped to bring down projections of federal healthcare spending from 2011 to 2021 by $900 billion.

The group called this “a remarkable slowdown,” which is high praise in their book. For anti-Obamacare dead-enders still claiming that the ACA will increase the federal deficit -- a claim the Congressional Budget Office has consistently debunked -- this is another data point to give them a sad.