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It’s Time To Demand The Obamacare Exchanges’ Missing Data

When it comes to the data that matters, what we don’t know about Obamacare’s exchanges turns out to be a big deal.

On Monday the Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) finally released an enrollment report on the Obamacare exchanges that not only listed the number of people who had selected a private plan or enrolled in Medicaid, but also contained data on the age and gender breakdown of enrollment and how many people qualified for a subsidy.

As yet publicly unknown: the number of people who have had difficulty enrolling in coverage, how many enrollees have paid their first premium and how many times HHS has failed to transfer crucial information to insurance companies.

The House of Representatives is set to vote today on H.R. 3362, the “Exchange Information Disclosure Act,” a bill authored by Representative Lee Terry (R-NE) that will help the Obama Administration overcome its extreme reluctance to release information on the exchanges.

H.R. 3362 requires the Administration to release data on the number of unique website visits, the number of individuals who have “created an account” on versus those who have actually enrolled in a plan and how many people are actually paying their premiums.  It also mandates the release of data regarding how many people have had trouble logging on to, enrolling in coverage, or calculating their premium subsidy, and the amount of difficulty HHS has had transferring information on enrollees to insurers. The legislation also requires HHS to release such data on a weekly instead of the current monthly basis.

Rep. Terry’s legislation is perhaps the only way to force the Obama Administration to release crucial data.  Right now, the Administration treats information about the exchange in a manner that can be charitably described as “politically convenient.”  If the data reflects poorly on Obamacare, the Administration finds all sorts of barriers that prevent expediting its release.  It releases the data only when it can no longer afford not to and then releases as little as it can get away with.

Amazingly, those barriers vanish into thin air on the rare occurrence when the data can be used to put a positive spin on Obamacare.   In such instances, the Administration releases the numbers faster than you can complete the sentence, “If you like your health plan…”

Witness HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifying before Congress in late October and early November of 2013:

Both the October and November enrollment reports were released 11 days after the end of the reporting period.  According to Sebelius, this was to ensure that the data was reliable.   It was also so that HHS could deal with the “834 piece” that Sebelius mentioned in response to Senator Orrin Hatch’s question. Known formally as an “834 EDI Transmission,” it is an electronic file that HHS must send to insurance companies to let them know that a person has enrolled in one of their health plans through the exchange.

Fast forward now to December 24, the deadline to sign up on the exchange for coverage that would begin January 1.  If Sebelius’ testimony in late October was any indication, the Administration wouldn’t be able to release “reliable” data on how many people had enrolled through the December deadline until the middle of January.  But on December 29, the Administration announced that more “than 1.1 million people enrolled in a qualified health plan via the Federally-facilitated Marketplace from October 1 to December 24, with more than 975,000 of those enrolling this month alone.” Two days after that, the Administration released more data showing that over 2.1 million people had signed up through state and federal exchanges.

If data could be released five to seven days after the December deadline, why couldn’t HHS release data in a similarly timely fashion for October and November? It’s not likely that “834 piece” problems would have prevented release of this data in October and November.  Despite any such problems, HHS still would have data on who enrolled in the exchanges.  Furthermore, whatever difficulties HHS was having with 834s don’t seem to be resolved. News stories have appeared as recently as January 15 about patients who have enrolled in health insurance coverage through the exchange only to find, when they sought to use the insurance, that the insurer has no record of their enrollment.

The most reasonable explanation is that the enrollment number for the October period was only about 106,000 and for November about 365,000.  Those figures were a public relations disaster for ObamaCare, and so the Administration wanted to delay their release as long as possible.  But in December, enrollment had jumped to a much more positive, headline-generating 2.1 million, and so the Administration wanted those figures reported as quickly as possible.

Rep. Terry’s bill would help end this cynicism and enable the public to get more detailed information on how well the exchanges are working.  Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama have proven shameless enough to block the bill.  But legislation that merely requires more accurate and timely data is not easy to oppose.  If enough House Democrats join Republicans in voting for it, opposition to it becomes even less tenable.

Here’s hoping that this is one time that political expediency works in favor of getting the truth about the Obamacare exchanges.

Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.

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