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December 05, 2013

About That "Enrollment Surge"

Something has been bugging me about the administration's very careful and coordinated media push earlier this week about both the website and enrollment.

For starters, the website is still not in any sort of working order. It might not be coughing up as many errors and may be a little more navigable, but it's still failing at its stated purpose. The website is supposed to be a place you can easily sign up for an account, shop for available plans and then actually enroll. This isn't happening. Insurers are still complaining about being sent faulty data and the administration is quietly encouraging people to work directly with insurance companies, bypassing the system entirely.

But the word went out and it was covered in the media. The website has seen a vast improvement.

Reuters:

The rollout of the program through a government website, HeathCare.gov, has been plagued by technical problems since it was launched two months ago. But the White House said on Saturday after an intensive overhaul of the website that it was now working at an acceptable level.
In addition to this miraculous turnaround, we were also given enrollment numbers for two days: Sunday, November 30th and Monday, December 1st.

What does two days worth of "enrollment data" give you? Well, it just happens to give you a "rate of enrollment", which can then be conveniently extrapolated over the coming open enrollments months. Watch how the National Journal does this:

Enrollment is still substantively behind schedule, and the administration has a lot of work to do to make up for lost time. The broken website effectively shaved two months off the six-month enrollment window, and enrollment in October was only 20 percent of the administration's initial expectations.

The administration expects 7 million people to sign up, nationwide, by the end of the six-month enrollment window. Signing up 29,000 people every two days would still not be enough to hit that target, but it's a significant step in the right direction for the White House.

Politico does it too:
The sharp increase in the pace of enrollments could begin to allay one of the industry’s other major fears — that after a two-month delay in standing up a functioning website, the administration won’t enroll enough people or the right mix of people by the March 30 deadline.
Isn't it interesting that the two days they targeted for the "fixes" to be completed also happen to be the same two days they have accurate enrollment data. This comes only a month or so after Kathleen Sebelius testified that accurate data wasn't going to be available in real-time.
"I want to give you reliable, confirmed data from every state and from the federal marketplace. We have said that we will do that on a monthly basis, by the middle of the month. You will have that data, but I don't want to turn over anything that is not confirmed and reliable, and that's what we'll do."
But now she has access to two days of data right away. You'll notice since this "source who is familiar with the program" (who is never named) confirmed this two days worth of enrollment data, it's been radio silence. Dead air. They're now back to touting web traffic metrics like pageviews again. So, what are we left with? A "vastly improved" website and an "enrollment surge" based on two days worth of data.

So, here's my theory. These 29,000 new enrollees over those two website deadline days was not a spike in enrollment; they were the backlogged November enrollments that had gotten caught in this data communications black hole. The information was fixed and these people were then formally enrolled over these two days. Boom, there's your enrollment spike.

Politico all but makes my case for me:

About 29,000 people signed up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov on Sunday and Monday — a figure that surpasses the total for the whole month of October, an official familiar with the program told POLITICO.

The quickened pace of enrollments came as the White House hit its self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to fix the troubled Affordable Care Act website.

Little odd, right? This administration is in desperate need of a win. The chances of a technical win at this point was a pipe dream given how far behind they were. All that was left was a media win, and for the most part, they got it. Improved website and surging enrollment.

We'll see what happens later in the month. If I'm right, this will all catch up with them. If there is one thing we've seen from this bungled operation is that they're panicked and will gladly trade a long-term loss for an immediate short-term win. Just get through today's news cycle. I could be wrong, of course. It's just a theory of mine. But it all does seem convenient.


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posted by JohnE. at 05:20 PM

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