HHS Admits Error in ACA Enrollment Numbers, Revises Figure to 6.7M
On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that it miscounted the number of people who enrolled in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges during its first open enrollment period, the New York Times reports.
HHS in September reported that about 7.3 million enrolled in exchange coverage. However, that figure included about 400,000 people who enrolled only in stand-alone dental coverage (Goodnough, New York Times, 11/20). Further, HHS recently reported that enrollment fell from 7.3 million to 7.1 million individuals who continued to pay for their coverage. Excluding those who enrolled only in dental coverage brings actual health plan enrollment down to 6.7 million, according to Modern Healthcare (Herman, Modern Healthcare, 11/20).
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee discovered the discrepancy when reviewing enrollment records (New York Times, 11/20).
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the "mistake" was "unacceptable." However, she said HHS still estimates that 9.1 million U.S. residents will be enrolled in medical coverage through the exchanges by the end of 2015 (New York Times, 11/20).
She added, "We will be putting in place measures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again after we understand why it happened" (Ferris, The Hill, 11/20). Meanwhile, CMS officials said that "only individuals with medical coverage will be included in our effectuated enrollment numbers" in the future.
Oversight and Government Reform Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in a statement accused the administration of "dismissing the American public's right to know" the proper enrollment figures (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 11/20). He added, "The claim that this was only accident stretches credulity" and "HHS must provide a clear and detailed account of who knew about this decision and when they knew it" (The Hill, 11/20).
Error Highlights Remaining Issues
According to the New York Times' "The Upshot," the miscalculation highlights persistent problems with the computer system HHS is using for enrollment. "The Upshot" reports that it is possible some enrollees were counted twice because many people who enrolled in stand-alone dental coverage likely also enrolled in health plans through the exchanges.
The administration has not provided exact details on why the error occurred, but Burwell said the issue would be investigated. However, the administration has said that the "back end" of HealthCare.gov remains incomplete, meaning it is not able to directly communicate with insurers. Instead, enrollment data are exchanged between HHS and insurers on spreadsheets, which can create confusion, according to "The Upshot" (Sanger-Katz, "The Upshot," New York Times, 11/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.