By Tom Barrasso
Next Monday, we will hit the deadline for Americans to sign up for insurance under President Obama's health care law. The Obama administration repeatedly declared that seven million people would have to sign up by March 31 in order for this enrollment period to be a success. With five days to go, they are two million short of their goal.
Even if the White House claims that it's come close to the seven million target, there will be many unanswered questions about the numbers and what they really mean.
First, how many of the people signing up actually have insurance? The Obama administration has released numbers showing how many people went through the sign-up process on its website or through state exchanges. Those people don't actually have insurance until they pay their premiums.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House of Representatives recently that she has no idea how many people have not paid. The point of Obamacare was to get people insurance, not just register them on a website.
A recent survey by McKinsey & Company found that only 53 percent of previously uninsured people who selected a plan actually paid their first month's premium. Someone may not realize the difference between signing up and having insurance until he or she shows up at a hospital needing care.
Second, how many people are newly insured? This was the other major goal of Obamacare. Washington Democrats said that we needed a massive overhaul of America's health care system in order to cover the uninsured.
Many of the people signing up are doing so because the insurance they had, and liked, was cancelled. The President's health care law forced them to switch. How many people? We don't know that either.
An HHS official admitted, "That's not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way." The paper application for Obamacare included a question about whether the person already had insurance. The bureaucrats and contractors who created the Healthcare.gov website dropped that important question.
The best estimate we have is from the McKinsey survey. They figured that only 27 percent of people who signed up for Obamacare insurance by early February were newly insured. If that number holds, the exchanges might end up covering fewer than two million previously uninsured Americans this year. Think of how much simpler, and more cost-effective, health care reform could have been while still covering the same number of people.
Third, who is signing up? The administration is pushing young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 to sign up. That's not happening. Through February, less than 10 percent of the young adults who potentially could enroll had done so.
Insurers need lots of young, healthy people to pay premiums and not ask for much care in return. Premiums are likely to jump unless more of them sign up by the beginning of next week.
Fourth, what kind of care will Obamacare insurance provide? For some people, having a doctor won't mean they can actually see the doctor. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, we're facing a shortage of 90,000 physicians by the end of the decade. Instead of training more doctors and nurses to deliver care, Obamacare focused on hiring IRS agents to force Americans to buy expensive coverage.
Some patients will get to see a doctor, though maybe not the one they need. Only four of 19 leading cancer hospitals in an Associated Press survey said they accept plans from all of the insurance companies in their states' exchanges.
For many other patients, their doctor will be spending more time looking at the computer instead of looking at them. That's because of burdensome new rules and record keeping requirements in the law.
Patients may get less care, but they soon will be paying even more. Secretary Sebelius finally conceded in her testimony that rates will continue to rise in 2015.
The President said recently that the law "is working the way it should." I believe he actually has no idea if his law is working, or what will happen next.
Our health care system needed reform; and needs it now more than ever. What Americans got with the Obama health care law was a monstrous new bureaucracy. It is raising costs for millions of people and leading to worse care and other unintended consequences.
As these four questions are answered, it will become even more clear that the health care law has failed patients, health care providers, and taxpayers.
The President should admit his law is not working and accept Republican ideas to replace it. Americans need better access to quality, affordable health care, not just broken promises, tired excuses, and unanswered questions.