(Bloomberg) The Obama administration said it erroneously calculated the number of people with health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, incorrectly adding 380,000 dental subscribers to raise the total above 7 million.
The accurate number with full health-care plans is 6.7 million as of Oct. 15, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Thursday, saying the U.S. wont include dental plans in future reports.
The mistake we made is unacceptable, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said on her verified Twitter account. I will be communicating that clearly throughout the department.
The error was brought to light by Republican investigators for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, using data they obtained from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
A mistake was made in calculating the number of individuals with effectuated Marketplace enrollments, said Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Individuals who had both Marketplace medical and dental coverage were erroneously counted in our recent announcements, he said in an e-mail.
The new count puts enrollment short of a 2013 estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, adopted last year as a goal by the Obama administration, that 7 million people would be enrolled this year. Federal officials said in September they had 7.3 million people enrolled in coverage through new government-run insurance exchanges. They didnt distinguish between medical and dental plans, breaking from previous practice without notice.
No More Dental
Moving forward only individuals with medical coverage will be included in our effectuated enrollment numbers, Griffis said.
Blending dental and medical plans let the administration assert that enrollment was more than 7 million. The move also partly obscured the attrition of more than 1 million in the number of people enrolled in medical insurance.
The administration had supplied information about dental plans separately in earlier disclosures. In May, the government reported that 8 million were signed up for health plans and 1.1 million were in dental coverage.
Then in September, the numbers became less transparent. The Medicare agencys administrator, Marilyn Tavenner, released a new enrollment figure, obtained from insurance companies participating in the exchanges: 7.3 million people were enrolled in the health insurance marketplace coverage, she said at a hearing by the Republican-led Oversight committee.
Tavenner didnt elaborate or break out dental plans. Reporters asked a spokesman for her agency, Aaron Albright, for more detail on the number after the hearing: He said he had no additional information about it.
After touting 8 million initial sign-ups for medical plans, four months later they engaged in a concerted effort to obscure a heavy drop-out rate of perhaps a million or more enrollees by quietly adding in dental plan sign-ups to exchange numbers, Republican Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the Oversight committee, said in an e-mail from a spokeswoman.
Charles Gaba, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based blogger who backs the Affordable Care Act and has accurately forecast enrollment, was among those who found Tavenners announcement encouraging. He had predicted enrollment would suffer attrition of about 3 percent per month; Tavenners figure suggested the rate was lower, only about 2 percent.
This is FANTASTIC news, he wrote at the time.
He said yesterday that he is appalled to find out dental plans were included in the figure.
I really dont see what the point would be of being misleading about that number, he said in a phone interview. Even if it had been 6.9 million, I dont see that as being a terrible thing.
The CBO, which forecasts enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, projected in 2013 that 7 million people would be signed up in 2014 before lowering the estimate by 1 million early this year.
The Obama administration has previously said that enrollment would erode from the 8 million figure. Some customers never paid their premiums or stopped paying. Some may have found alternative coverage, such as through a new job; others may have decided the program wasnt worth the price.
Instead of offering the public an accurate accounting, the administration engaged in an effort to obscure and downplay the number of dropouts, Issa said.
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