HHS Lowballs Marketplace Enrollment Expectations for 2016

October 17, 2015

By the end of 2016, 10 million people are expected to have insurance coverage through the health insurance marketplaces and be paying their premiums, which is a small increase from the current 9.1 million individuals.

By the end of 2016, 10 million people are expected to have insurance coverage through the health insurance marketplaces and be paying their premiums, according to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Currently, 9.1 million individuals are paying their premiums. Based on projections from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), HHS expects between 11 million and 14.1 million total marketplace plan selections during open enrollment. However, the agency expects the number of covered individuals who will still being paying premiums to be between 9.4 million and 11.4 million by the end of 2016.

“We believe 10 million is a strong and realistic goal,” Burwell said in a statement. “We’ve seen high levels of satisfaction with the Marketplace and expect the vast majority of our current customers will reenroll. And our target assumes that more than one out of every four of the eligible uninsured will select plans.”

As POLITICO points out, this enrollment goal is a lowball estimate and only means a net increase of roughly 1 million individuals. The 2016 presidential election is likely the reason: enrollment will close just days before the first presidential primaries.

Avik Roy, who is now advising Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, wrote in Forbes that the Congressional Budget Office had projected in 2010 that enrollment would reach a total of 21 million effectuated enrollees and that enrollment would grow 8 million in 2016.

“In other words, Obamacare’s exchanges are on track to achieve less than half of the enrollment that was originally predicted,” he wrote.

The ASPE also provided additional insight into the 10.5 million individuals who are eligible for coverage but remain uninsured. Almost half of this uninsured population is between the ages of 18 years and 34 years; almost 40% are living between 139% and 250% of the poverty level and approximately 8 in 10 have an income that may qualify them for financial assistance; more than a third are people of color; and they are more likely to be male.

“We are working hard to improve the customer experience with upgrades to our site and more tools to help people find what they are looking for,” Burwell said. “We want to make it easier for consumers to find the right plan at the right price.”