Benefit Experts Agree that Obamacare Can Survive Fewer Enrollments

Even though it looks like about 2 million fewer Americans are going to enroll in an Obamacare insurance plans than the White House predicted, many benefit experts say that should be enough to avoid a catastrophic meltdown.


President Obama said as much last week. But some of the consultants had words of warning for the administration as well.


Health benefits consultants said there is reason to worry about whether enough younger Americans have signed up due to the website issues early on that may have hurt enrollment.

In addition, slow signups in certain states that have continued to have more technical issues, such as Oregon, could trigger health plans to sustain greater losses and consider pulling out of the program, benefits consultants said.

“From an actuarial perspective, the fact that the rollout was poor hurt initial enrollment, and the recent extension of the transitional policies through October 2016 may likely keep many out of the single risk pool, at least for the short term,” said Tammy Tomczyk, principal and consulting actuary with Oliver Wyman Consulting Actuaries.

So far, however, health insurance companies have said the enrollment is trending younger and there have been few surprises that would require them to pull out of the program.

Americans can still enroll through the end of this month for coverage in 2014. Under the law, millions of Americans can get a subsidy of up to $5,000 to purchase an array of health plan choices that include those sold by Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, Aetna (AET), Cigna (CI), Humana (HUM), UnitedHealth Group (UNH), depending on the state.

Despite the technical issues that dogged the website and prevented millions of Americans from signing up in October and much of November, benefits consultants said they always expected the enrollment to be slow.

“Six or seven million people doesn’t sound like much in a population of 300 million, but when you consider that the majority of Americans gets their health insurance through employers, and another large chunk is covered by government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare, you’re left with 12 million covered in the Individual market and about 48 million uninsured pre-ACA,” said Helen Leis, partner in the health and life sciences practice group at Oliver Wyman, “Six or seven million of that is good uptake after less than six months. We expect to see about 22 million lives on the public exchanges by 2018.”


The rollout is barely half finished. All we’ve seen so far is what happens to people who had individual insurance plans. The other shoe in this scenario are the immense problems that are going to occur when the employer mandate kicks in. It’s impossible to predict at this point how many employers are going to drop insurance coverage, how many are going to have to increase the amount that employees contribute to company plans, and what happens to the small business market.

Obamacare might not implode but problems with the law are not going to go away.


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