Obamacare's health insurance Exchanges opened for business, in most states, sort of, on Tuesday. Millions of people have reportedly flooded the Exchanges, but have had so much difficulty using the web sites that reporters have had a hard time finding anyone who has successfully enrolled in an Obamacare plan. The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff writes:
Just moments after writing a blog post Thursday morning, about the lack of information on Obamacare enrollees, Enroll America reached out with contact information for Chad Henderson, a 21-year-old in Georgia who had successfully enrolled in coverage on the federal marketplace.
Chad is evidently a scarce commodity.
It was a little difficult to reach Henderson, mostly because so many other reporters wanted to talk to him. "I'm supposed to talk to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a half hour," Henderson said. "And The Wall Street Journal is supposed to call."
Luckily, Henderson managed to squeeze me in for a few minutes.
Kliff reports that after a three-hour ordeal, Chad bought an Obamacare plan that cost him $175 per month -- pretty steep, considering he makes less than $11,500 per year. His Obamacare premium comes to least 18 percent of his income. And no, Chad is not eligible for subsidies.
Compare that to what Chad could have paid if he bought one of the pre-Obamacare plans still available on eHealthInsurance.com until December 31. The cheapest such plan for someone meeting Chad's profile is just $44.72 -- as little as 5 percent of his annual income and about one-quarter of his Obamacare premium.
I can't yet say whether Chad's $175 premium is the lowest-cost plan available to him through the Exchange. (I'm in the process of researching that. Let's just say it'll probably take a few hours.) But it's probably close. The cheapest plan available to him through eHealthInsurance.com after Obamacare's community-rating price controls take effect in 2014, and drive up premiums for young, healthy people market-wide, is $190.23. That's with the maximum cost-sharing allowed under Obamacare. So it appears Obamacare quadrupled Chad's premiums, and Enroll America thinks that is a success story.
To me, the most interesting part is that Chad didn't buy health insurance when it was available to him for just $45 per month, but did buy it at an unsubsidized $175/month premium. Why? Again, Kliff:
He describes himself as a supporter of President Obama who has anxiously awaited Obamacare's rollout...
Part of his decision was ideological: He wants the health-care law to succeed.
Okay...but why does he support the law and want it to succeed? If it's because he likes the idea of young, healthy, low-income people like himself paying the medical bills for older, sicker, higher-income people, he didn't have to wait for Obamacare to come along. He could have just sent money to old people. Was he previously spending this money that way? If he supports the law because he wants to support President Obama, was he previously using the same money to support the president (e.g., sending that money to the president's campaigns and political organizations, or the federal Treasury)? Did Chad do it for the fame? He can spend his money however he wants, as far as I'm concerned. I'm just trying to understand.
UPDATE #1: The @ObamaCare Twitter account retweeted @ChadHenderson thus: "This is what today was about: MT @ChadHenderson: enrolled in #Obamacare! Looking forward to having affordable healthcare for the first time!" Erm, sure.
UPDATE #2: Mediaite's Tommy Christopher calls me a liar and a conservative. Then he really gets upset.
Christopher writes of the $45/month policy that's still available to Henderson:
That plan has two separate deductibles of $10,000.00 each, and out-of-pocket maximums totaling $10,500.00, for a grand total of $30,500.00 in out of pocket expenses.
According to eHealthInsurance.com, the BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia Smart Sense Plus POS 10,000 has an annual deductible of $10,000, an annual out-of-pocket limit of $13,000, which includes the deductible, and boasts a rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars. That deductible and out-of-pocket limit probably apply only to in-network providers (the plan does have some out-of-network coverage, though I can't locate any more detail), but note that they are not additive. I don't see anything indicating the total out-of-pocket exposure is $30,000. (HT: Megan McArdle.) Note also that many ObamaCare plans will have lots of out-of-pocket exposure above the $6,350 cap for in-network providers.
Christopher also blames Georgia Republicans for the fact that Henderson has to pay that full premium himself, without any taxpayer subsidies. If Georgia Republicans had implemented ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion, Henderson would have been eligible for "free" health care (or at least, free Medicaid). I've got news for Christopher: Georgia (along with 33 other states) also refused to establish an ObamaCare Exchange, which means Georgians between the poverty line and 400 percent of poverty are not eligible for ObamaCare subsidies, either; Georgia employers are exempt from penalties under the employer mandate; and 420,000 Georgians are exempt from penalties under the individual mandate.
More broadly, as I told Arkansas Times associate editor David Ramsey when he made the same point, it seems odd to lay blame for the harm ObamaCare causes on the majority who oppose it, rather than on the minority who support it. Georgia Republicans aren't jacking up Chad Henderson's premiums; ObamaCare is. Georgia Republicans aren't penalizing Chad Henderson unless he buys overpriced coverage; ObamaCare is. ObamaCare would work so well if everyone loved it; but most people don't. Likewise, Medicaid would be a terriffic program if only it improved people's physical health; but the most reliable evidence says it doesn't. Supporters understandably prefer to defend ObamaCare in its Platonic form; the rest of us must deal with it as it exists in the real world.
UPDATE #3: Henderson clarifies, "The fact that I'm an OFA volunteer has nothing to do with my #Obamacare story." OFA is Obama for America or Organizing for Action or whatever they're calling it now.
UPDATE #4: David Ramsey notes that given Chad Henderson's current income, it is unlikely Henderson would face penalties for failing to purchase coverage. Ramsey is correct; I had been thinking of Henderson's likely higher future income. I have struck-out the offending sentence (above), and I thank Ramsey for catching the error.
UPDATE #5: Reason's Peter Suderman exposes (and the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff confirms) that in fact Henderson has not enrolled in an ObamaCare plan, despite giving that impression to numerous media outlets. So, that happened.