Obamacare enrollment at 7.3 million people, official says

About 7.3 million people had paid for their Obamacare coverage and were enrolled in health insurance plans sold through new government-run markets on Aug. 15, a top U.S. official said Thursday.

That’s a 9-percent reduction from the government’s May estimate of 8 million, which reflected only how many people had signed up, not how many had paid and were enrolled in the coverage. The number has been long sought by Republican lawmakers who oppose the law.

The announcement, by Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is the first time since then that the Obama administration has provided enrollment figures under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Seven million more people have signed up for coverage through Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor.

Tavenner released the new figure at a hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, D.C., where Republicans opposed to the health law peppered her with questions about the security of the government’s insurance website and the destruction of e-mails she wrote before the site opened for business.

“A new wave of evidence shows that the Affordable Care Act is working to make health-care coverage more affordable, accessible and of higher quality, for families, seniors, businesses and taxpayer alike,” Tavenner said in a statement prepared for the hearing.

State websites

While 8 million people selected health plans through the federal system and 14 state-run insurance markets, their enrollment wasn’t confirmed until they paid the first month’s premium to their insurer. Insurance companies including Aetna Inc. and Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc. have previously said they’ve collected premiums from 80 percent to 90 percent of their Affordable Care Act customers.

The new number comes from data insurers reported to the government and reflects a “snapshot” of enrollment on Aug. 15, the Medicare agency said in an e-mail to reporters.

Measuring enrollment under the law is an imprecise science. People can move in and out of Affordable Care Act plans over the course of the year. Events that can trigger a change in insurance coverage include losing or gaining a job, getting married or having a child. Conceivably, some people may enroll and cancel their enrollment from Obamacare multiple times in a year.

Oregon and Nevada

Next year, Oregon and Nevada will no longer run their own enrollment sites and will join the federal system, Tavenner said Thursday. Oregon’s online enrollment system never worked, requiring state officials to process tens of thousands of applications by hand. Nevada’s system didn’t work as well as officials expected. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber is a Democrat. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is a Republican.

The federal government provided $303 million to Oregon and $91 million to Nevada to help build their enrollment systems and websites, according to the not-for-profit Kaiser Family Foundation of Menlo Park, California. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, asked Tavenner whether the government would seek to recoup the money.

“We’re working with Oregon and other states,” she said. “That’s all I can say right now.”

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the chairman of the committee, criticized the security of the federal government’s enrollment website, healthcare.gov, and the Obama administration’s obfuscation of its problems, in opening remarks at the hearing.

Security questions

“This administration has not complied with, nor caused their key executives including political appointees, to comply with the federal records act,” he said. Addressing Tavenner, he told her, “Your actions hinder Congress’ investigation and also prevent the public from accessing information under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Tavenner said the healthcare.gov site hadn’t had a major data security problem. “To date, there is no evidence that a person or group has maliciously accessed personally identifiable information from the site,” she said in a prepared statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Oversight panel, complained that the committee has harped on healthcare.gov’s security while ignoring breaches of corporate information systems including Target Corp., Community Health Systems Inc. and Home Depot Inc.

“Our committee has spent a tremendous amount of time focusing on the Affordable Care Act and its website, where no cyber attacks have compromised anyone’s personal information to date,” Cummings said. “We have been disregarding much more serious attacks that have actually compromised a massive amount of personal information. We are talking hundreds of millions of people.”

Cummings said Issa has denied requests for hearings on those breaches.

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