Biden Lowers Obamacare Enrollment Expectations

Marguerite Bowling /

Pete Souza / White House Photo

Pete Souza / White House Photo

Speaking to patrons of a Minneapolis coffee shop on Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden moved the goal post further back on how many Americans would enroll in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges before the March 31 deadline.

“We may not get 7 million, we may get to five or six [million], but that’s a hell of a start,” Biden said,  the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. The Obama administration already had backed away from its initial goal of 7 million Obamacare enrollees by March 31, instead focusing on getting the right mix of participants and counting every new enrollee as a success.

But Biden’s comments quantify what a new goal could be, mirroring projections made earlier this month by the Congressional Budget Office. In its budget and economic outlook, CBO lowered the expected 2014 enrollment in the state and federal exchanges from 7 million to 6 million, mostly blaming the administration’s botched rollout of Obamacare’s website,, for the revision.

As of February 1, the Health and Human Services Department said it had enrolled 3.3 million in Obamacare’s private health insurance plans.. But that number doesn’t specify how many Americans who selected plans on the Obamacare exchanges have paid their first month premiums, which is seen as the “normal” enrollment standard in the insurance industry.

“At some point, likely this spring, the administration will be forced to disclose how many people are actually paying their premiums—a more accurate, yet undoubtedly lower count of who actually got insured under the Affordable Care Act,”  health reporter Sam Baker wrote in National Journal.

Baker pointed to anecdotal estimates from individual insurance companies that reported 20 percent to 30 percent of Obamacare enrollees had not made their first payment. Although those numbers could improve, “however they end up, that’s the real measure of Obamacare’s first-year success,” he wrote.

Dan Diamond, a contributing editor to California Healthline, had a more pessimistic view about enrollment of young adults, a vital age group for the exchanges. The administration had said that nearly 40 percent of new Obamacare enrollees would need to be young adults (ages 18 to 34) to spread health costs and make the exchanges successful.

“Under [Obamacare] thus far, 18- to 34-year-olds account for about one quarter of all enrollees…and to get to the White House’s stated goal, young adults would have to account for about one-half of all new sign-ups that CBO expects to see in February and March,” Diamond wrote.

“That sign-up pattern is almost certainly not going to happen, which may spark a new round of critical headlines,” he added.

Obamacare supporters have said that even with a low enrollment number and adverse selection, the health law’s exchanges could survive the first year without escalating the price of health insurance premiums.

But continually low enrollment for healthy, younger individuals could signal that Obamacare quickly will devolve into a heavily subsidized and regulated program such as Medicaid, said Edmund Haislmaier, senior health research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

“What this all means is that Obamacare’s final destination is more a fiscal sinkhole than a market collapse,” Haislmaier  wrote in The National Interest.

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.