Several large health insurers told a congressional committee Wednesday that 80 percent to 90 percent of their new Obamacare customers are paying their first premiums, undermining a Republican criticism of enrollment in the program.
WellPoint Inc. said as many as 90 percent of its customers have paid their first premium by its due date. For Aetna Inc., the payment is in the “low to mid-80 percent range,” the company said. Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states, said that number was at least 83 percent.
“By any rational, reasonable measure we can call this law a success,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat.
But Republicans said plenty of questions remained, including whether rates would rise next year and by how much, and how many of those covered were previously uninsured.
“While the administration toasts the law’s success with its Hollywood allies, declaring this conversation over, we will continue our pursuit for facts,” said Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who leads the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The six insurance industry witnesses summoned by an investigations subcommittee of the panel were unable to provide details on any coming rate changes or how many people were previously uninsured, prompting frustration at times from Republicans who called the hearing.
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.
The Obama administration says that 8 million people signed up for private plans using the law’s insurance exchanges, but 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. Aetna asks for payment by the day before coverage begins, but “we are being flexible if enrollees have extenuating circumstances,” a spokeswoman said 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, Va., 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.