Obamacare’s Score of 67 Percent Merits a D

Obamacare by from The Weekly Standard, March 28, 2014

In school, a child who gets a 67 percent will generally get a D. But for Obamacare, 67 percent is apparently grounds for an A. Talk about grading on a curve.

In 2012, the Congressional Budget Office projected that 9 million people would get health insurance for 2014 through Obamacare’s government-run exchanges. Two days ago, the Obama administration announced that 6 million people had gotten insurance for 2014 through those very same exchanges—and the administration could barely contain its glee. So, what gives?

In the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court issued its Obamacare ruling, holding that Obamacare’s individual mandate was clearly unconstitutional under the commerce clause but not clearly unconstitutional under the taxing power. Shortly thereafter, the Congressional Budget Office released a document entitled “Estimates for the Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act Updated for the Recent Supreme Court Decision.” In that document, the CBO estimated that 9 million people would get health insurance for 2014 through Obamacare’s government-run exchanges.

Last February, the CBO downgraded its estimate. It wrote that, in part, this downgrade reflected its judgment about “the readiness of exchanges to provide a broad array of new insurance options.” In other words, over a year ago, the CBO could already read the writing on the wall:  Obamacare’s government-run exchanges weren’t going to be dazzling anyone with their technical competence or their product line.

Sure enough, they haven’t. Indeed, last month, the CBO had seen enough of the Obamacare rollout to downgrade its projection still further, to 6 million. Less than 2 months later, that lowered estimate has now reportedly been hit—and the Obama administration is claiming victory.

This is a lot like a college football team that, in the immediate aftermath of the previous season, is projected by sportswriters to win 9 regular season games (out of 12) the following season and go to a good bowl game. Then, after watching spring practice, the sportswriters decide that 7 wins is probably more realistic.  Midway through the actual season, they drop their projection to 6 wins—and the team finishes 6-6 and doesn’t go to a bowl. Where this analogy breaks down is that the teams’ players would likely view their season with disappointment, while the Obama administration acts as if its 6-6 team has won the national championship.

Moreover, even the figure of 6 million is based on the number of people who have “signed up” for insurance.  But people don’t “sign up” for insurance; they buy it—and it’s not clear how many of these 6 million have yet bought anything. From reports, it appears that about 20 percent—or more than a million people—have “signed up” for something that they haven’t yet bought and likely have no intention of ever buying. Only an administration with as little business experience or acumen as this one would count such people as confirmed customers.

In reality, it appears that the Obama administration knows how many people have paid for these plans but is refusing to release those numbers to the public.

Taking a step back, the administration’s delight at having posted a score of 67 percent is really rather pathetic. Obamacare compels Americans to buy insurance—and yet, out of 53 million previously uninsured (to use the CBO’s figure), only 6 million people obeyed Obamacare’s command. In truth, even fewer did, as the tally was 6 million—minus those who haven’t paid—out of the 78 million who (according to the CBO) were either uninsured or were already insured in the individual market as of last year. Out of 78 million, would it really have been that hard to get 9 million people to buy a product that you’re mandating they buy?

Here are three quick final thoughts:  One, even if the Obama administration had hit 100 percent of 9 million—rather than just 67 percent of that mark—that performance would merit a C, not an A, as it would involve merely meeting, not surpassing, expectations. (Moreover, if 100 percent merits a C, giving a D for 67 percent is probably generous.) Two, the mix of people in the exchanges is too old and sick to keep Obamacare from raising insurance costs even higher going forward. Three, far more people have been hurt than have been helped by Obamacare, and this will remain so until it is repealed and replaced with a conservative alternative. Indeed, the most interesting numerical comparison might well be between the number of previously uninsured paying customers in the Obamacare exchanges and the number of previously insured people whose plans were cancelled (and remain cancelled) because of the president’s namesake.

© 2014 Weekly Standard LLC. Reprinted with permission.