Health care enrollment via President Obama’s insurance exchanges have hit less than fifty percent of what was originally forecast. Ooops. While this, alone, is noteworthy, the falling numbers have helped to push a significant number of major insurance companies to cease their health plan offerings in specific markets, out of concern over major financial losses.
Of course, this means that the Obama administration’s promise of a colorful menu of health plan options has reverted to what many had feared: a major risk that a significant portion of the country could have only one insurance option as early as next year. According to Kaiser Family Foundation health reform researcher Cynthia Cox, this basically means that we are facing health insurance monopolies in, maybe, 25 percent of the country.
“Enrollment is key, first and foremost,” explains Sara R. Collins, who is a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund. This is a nonpartisan foundation aimed at funding health-care research. She goes on to say, “They have to have this critical mass of people so that, by the law of averages, you’re going to get a mix of healthy and less healthy people.”
You may recall that Obama had initially promised an experience to that of purchasing a plane ticket. In a 2009 speech, he said, “This exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health-care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that’s best for you and your family. You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package.”
At the same time, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber advises, “There’s no bottleneck, this is just the natural growth pains of a new market. What happened is they set up this new market where insurers didn’t have experience; insurers made an estimate as to what people would cost and their estimate turned out to be too low.”
Perhaps the penalty for not signing up needs to be higher, to encourage more people to enlist. Some policy experts insist that the punishment is currently not enough to motivate the public.