As millions of people buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, it's getting harder for GOP critics to brand Obamacare a "train wreck." So some are resorting to making stuff up.
But before we get to that, let's look at some facts. The latest federal statistics, released Thursday, revealed that more than 8 million people have secured health plans through federal and state marketplaces since Oct. 1. That beats the expectations of 7 million enrollments for the first year of the ACA.
Some of the enrollment trends tracked closely to what experts predicted, based on the experience of Massachusetts' health-care reform ("Romneycare"). One expected trend was that enrollment would surge as the March 31 deadline approached; sure enough, 47 percent of enrollments came in the final month.
Another was that the share of young adults in the mix would increase sharply toward the end, because healthy "young invincibles" are especially likely to procrastinate. Sure enough, the proportion of people ages 18 to 34 increased from 24 percent before Dec. 28 to 31 percent in March.
Overall, 28 percent of private plan enrollees are in this age group. That's close enough to their ratio in the general population -- about 40 percent -- to eradicate fears that the system would collapse under the weight of too many older, expensive patients. The law already includes provisions to handle disproportionate enrollment of sicker patients, but these figures suggest those measures won't be needed.
In light of such encouraging developments, some Republicans have moved into the realm of fiction. Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee released a survey claiming that only 67 percent of enrollees in the federal marketplace have paid their premiums, which makes their enrollment official. So a third of the new enrollments don't count, in their view.
But most other surveys have placed the percentage of premium payers at an average 85 percent, with some as high as 95 percent. (California's state exchange, Covered California, says insurance firms are reporting 85 percent payment.)
Obamacare enrollment tracker Charles Gaba calls the House report "embarrassingly flawed" and, with uncharacteristic bluntness, a "pile of crap." He points out that the report assumed -- incorrectly -- that premiums on all enrollments were due by April 15. In fact, only 63 percent of enrollment payments were due by then, with the rest due April 30 or even sometime in May. That's a big-enough mistake to invalidate the entire survey.
Gaba adds further that figures from state exchanges in Washington, Massachusetts, Oregon, Minnesota and Connecticut are all coming in at 95 percent paid or above; there's no reason to assume enrollments on the federal exchange will be much different.
The Department of Health and Human Services report doesn't help much to answer the question of how many enrollees were previously uninsured, which is another obsession of critics. It does offer a curiously positive statistic, which Health and Human Services officials are treating cautiously: Of the 5.2 million people who applied for ACA subsidies via the federal enrollment website and therefore were asked about their current insurance status, only 13 percent said they "had coverage at the time of application."
Simple math suggests that this means that 87 percent of enrollees were previously uninsured, but Health and Human Services officials aren't banking on it. The problem is that the individual insurance market is extremely volatile, so the statistic doesn't reveal whether these people had been uninsured for a month, a year or forever. Some may have simply dropped their coverage in anticipation of signing up for 2014, or misunderstood the question.
Other surveys, federal health officials acknowledged at a press briefing Thursday, show the absolute decline in the uninsured to be 5 million to 10 million -- from all aspects of the ACA, including expanded Medicaid.
Here's the take-away: The GOP's campaign against the Affordable Care Act is still at full cry, but it's becoming more desperate with every passing day.
Contact Michael Hiltzik at firstname.lastname@example.org.