EDITORIAL: Obamacare enrollment attrition

Back in April, President Barack Obama called on Democrats to “be proud” of the fact that millions of Americans had signed up for Obamacare. In what amounted to a declaration of victory, he attacked Republicans for opposing Medicaid expansions or supporting outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

A few months later, however, the Obama administration has toned down the rhetoric. Officials who were loud and proud about the number of Obamacare signups have gone quiet. Recent exchange statistics give a clear indication why.

A spokesman for Aetna, the nation’s third-largest health insurer, recently told Investor’s Business Daily that the company saw 720,000 people sign up for coverage as of May 20, but it had fewer than 600,000 paying customers by the end of June. And the company expects the number to drop even more — to “just over 500,000” — by the end of the year.

Cigna CEO David Cordani told the publication that he expects the company’s individual market customers — including more than 100,000 through the exchanges — to drop from 300,000 to about 280,000. While representatives from other insurers failed to cite specific numbers, none denied customer attrition at their companies. The state of Washington reported 164,062 paid enrollees as of April 23, but only 156,155 as of June 1.

So why is there such a gap between the number of sign-ups and the number of customers who are currently paying premiums? There are numerous factors, not the least of which is premium costs. Signing up for coverage and paying for it are two very different things.

Increasing customer attrition is yet another sign that the law has much larger sustainability problems than its supporters are willing to admit. Democrats can tell themselves that Obamacare is a few tweaks from perfection — the law has already been changed more than 40 times since it was enacted — but if enrollment is suffering this kind of attrition this quickly, it spells big trouble for the law. The more people drop out, the smaller the risk pool, the higher the premiums, the more people drop out. It’s the start of a death spiral.

President Obama was so eager to celebrate that he spiked the ball before he crossed the goal line. The ball is loose. How long do we have to wait before Republicans scoop it up and run it back the other way?

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