Three large health insurers including WellPoint Inc. (WLP:US) and Aetna Inc. (AET:US) say that a high percentage of their new Obamacare customers are paying their first premiums, undermining a Republican criticism of enrollment in the program.
As many as 90 percent of WellPoint customers have paid their first premium by its due date, according to testimony the company prepared for a congressional hearing today. For Aetna, the payment is in the “low to mid-80 percent range,” the company said in its own testimony. Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states including Texas, said that number is at least 83 percent.
Making the first monthly payment is the last step to confirm enrollment in plans sold under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and Republicans have made the question of how many paid a line of attack on the law.
“What you have here is very solid first year enrollment, no matter how you slice it,” Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a Washington consulting firm, said in a phone interview. “This thing is, at this point, well entrenched.”
While the Obama administration says that 8 million people signed up for private plans using the law’s insurance exchanges, federal officials have said they don’t track first premium payments.
Due dates for the first premium vary by company and aren’t always strictly enforced. WellPoint, for example, asks for payment by the 10th of the month for coverage that begins on the first. While Aetna asks for payment by the day before coverage begins, “we are being flexible if enrollees have extenuating circumstances,” a spokeswoman for the company, Cynthia Michener, said in an e-mail last week.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee invited insurers to testify on enrollment after publishing a report last week claiming only two-thirds of people who signed up had paid their first premium.
“That was just foolishness on the part of the committee to even publish that number because it was completely out of context,” Bob Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant in Alexandria, Virginia, said in a phone interview.
The Republicans reported a lower percentage of paid premiums in part because they surveyed insurers only on payments received by April 15. At least 3 million people signed up for coverage that didn’t begin until May 1 or later; their premiums weren’t due until at least April 30.
The Republicans say they plan to update their report about May 20, when due dates will have passed for most Obamacare plans.
“After months of excuses, we took the administration’s advice and asked the insurance providers themselves for basic enrollment figures,” Fred Upton, the chairman of the committee, said in an e-mail from a spokeswoman. “Tomorrow’s hearing will allow us to further explore the status of implementation and provide greater transparency and certainty moving forward.”
Spokeswomen for the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t immediately offer comment.
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