WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s internal projections called for strong enrollment in the states in the first year of new health insurance markets, according to unpublished estimates obtained by The Associated Press. Whether those expectations will bear out is unclear.
Technology glitches have frustrated many consumers trying to sign up for coverage online, and efforts to upgrade and repair healthcare.gov are ongoing.
But the estimates, obtained through a public records request, may be the closest thing to a yardstick for measuring the performance of President Barack Obama’s health care law across the states.
The enrollment breakdown by states was included in a draft of an administration report on insurance premiums in the new markets, but it was omitted from a subsequent version that was released to the public last month by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Leading up to the opening of insurance markets Oct. 1, the White House generally deflected questions about its own expectations of how consumers would respond. Officials instead cited a congressional estimate that 7 million people would gain coverage in the first year through the markets, which offer subsidized private insurance to people who don’t have a job-based health plan.
The draft, dated Sept. 20, broke down the figure of 7 million among states. It estimated the expected enrollment in California, for example, at 1.3 million people in 2014. The estimate for Texas was 629,000 and for Florida, 477,000. The report estimated 340,000 people would enroll in Washington state, and 218,000 in New York.
The final report, released Sept. 25, omitted the enrollment estimates, but it was identical in most other respects.
Asked why the estimates were missing from the final report, HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in a statement: “We are focused on reaching as many people as possible about their options. There are many estimates of how many people will enroll in year one.” Some states have released their own estimates, she added, and other states are changing theirs based on experience.
The omission puzzled some experts in the field of health care economics.
“Why there is this reluctance to share internal estimates, I don’t know,” said health economist Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare for President George H.W. Bush. “This kind of information has a way of worming its way out into the open, which makes it look like they have something to hide.”
While consumer interest in the new health insurance markets has been undeniably strong, it’s hard to get a sense of how many people have been able to navigate balky federal and state websites and successfully enroll. Numbers released by states running their own marketplaces suggest upward of 100,000 people have enrolled so far, out of millions of potential interested customers.
The administration refuses to release numbers for the 36 states in which it is taking the lead. Officials at first said the frozen computer screens and other issues were the result of a high volume of interest. They later acknowledged software and design issues were also to blame.