Oops: Obama Administration Inflated Obamacare Enrollment Numbers
Policy + Politics

Oops: Obama Administration Inflated Obamacare Enrollment Numbers

The Health and Human Services Department has some explaining to do.

In September, federal health officials announced that 7.3 million people had signed up for health insurance on the state or federal exchanges. This was big news—as it meant Obamacare had beaten the White House’s goal of enrolling 7 million people in the first year of the program.

However, it turns out, the real number of people who signed up for medical coverage is actually about 6.97 million. A report by Bloomberg’s Alex Wayne revealed that the administration quietly lumped as many as 400,000 dental plans into the total enrollment number without telling anyone.

Related: 4 Hidden Mysteries in the Obamacare Enrollment Numbers

HHS Officials confirmed at least 380,000 dental plans were “erroneously” included in the 7.3 million total, according to Wayne. Sylvia Burwell, HHS Secretary, tweeted, "The mistake we made is unacceptable. I will be communicating that clearly throughout the dept.​"

The Obama administration has repeatedly stressed its goal of being transparent, but secretly lumping dental enrollment numbers into the entire Obamacare enrollment total is not exactly transparent. Expect Republicans to call massive attention to this.

Though previous HHS reports separated medical enrollment numbers from dental, the September report did not. It simply said 7.3 million were enrolled in Obamacare –without any hint at the divide. Just last week, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced ahead of Obamacare’s second open enrollment period that 7.1 million people had enrolled in coverage since the end of October. That figure appears to be misleading.

Charles Gaba, the number crunching guru who’s been keeping the enrollment tally from the get-go, questioned HHS’s motive for not being more forthcoming about including the dental plans in the total number.

“Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with 400K people getting dental coverage. That's a good thing. And there's nothing to be embarrassed/ashamed about if the August number was "only" 7.0 million instead of 7.3 million. I said that 7.3M in August would be fantastic...but 7.0 million is still pretty damned good,” Gaba wrote in a blog post Thursday. “However, assuming this claim is accurate, the HHS Dept. absolutely owes me and everyone else an explanation about why they would mislead about something there was no need--even from a political spin POV--to mislead about.”

Related: Obamacare Could Face Large Numbers of Dropouts

Obamacare’s enrollment numbers have been consistently targeted by the GOP—which has relentlessly attacked the law since it first took effect. Last May, House Republicans released a half-completed report claiming that just 67 percent of Obamacare enrollees had actually paid their premiums. HHS officials, however, debunked that number--saying the information was collected before the deadline to pay premiums. "These claims are based on only about half of the approximately 300 issuers in the federally-facilitated marketplace and they do not match up with public comments from insurance companies themselves, most of which indicate that 80 to 90 percent of enrollees have paid their premiums," an HHS official said in a statement at the time. 

Regardless, the latest news is sure to add fuel to anti-Obamacare opponents.

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