Who’s Going to Pay the Bills?

As I’ve noted previously, West Virginians recognize a bargain when they see it. They also understand a bad deal when it’s offered to them.

Obamacare enrollment numbers – finally released after weeks of delay – make that clear.

At the end of March, the deadline for open enrollment to obtain health insurance through Obamacare, slightly more than 8 million Americans had signed up for it.

Here in the Mountain State, the percentage of the population getting on the president’s bandwagon was much lower. Here, just 19,856 people – a bit more than 1 percent of the state’s residents – enrolled for Obamacare. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, that’s about half the number who were eligible.

Age breakdowns are illuminating. Here in West Virginia, just 19 percent of those enrolling were in the 18-34 age group. That’s the lowest percentage in the country.

As you may recall, high enrollments in that age group are critical to making the program work. They pay higher premiums, including for services they probably won’t need, in order to cover the cost for those in other age groups.

In other words, older people get more than their money’s worth, so to speak, from Obamacare. Here in West Virginia, 38 percent of the enrollees are 55 years of age or older. Nationally, the figure is 26 percent.

An exceedingly interesting aspect of the government’s “final” report on Obamacare sign-ups involves cost – and need.

Remember how Obamacare was sold to Congress? An enormous number of people lacked health insurance. We had to provide it.

But look back at the eligibility numbers. According to the DHHS, only 13,547,592 Americans were eligible for health insurance under what’s being called the “marketplace.” That’s the system whereby insurance policies are provided, but those receiving them need to pay at least something for coverage. That’s a far cry from the numbers we were fed when Congress was considering Obamacare.

Look now at total enrollments: About 8 million people signed up for “marketplace” insurance. Another 4.8 million took advantage of expanded Medicaid to obtain free coverage.

That’s a total of about 12.8 million newly covered Americans – very much less than the number we were assured would be taken out of the ranks of people lacking any health insurance.

But here’s the big catch: Of that total of 12.8 million, 4.8 million are getting free Medicaid coverage, courtesy of taxpayers. Of the 8 million who signed up under the marketplace, nearly 6.7 million are eligible for some assistance in paying premiums.

That works out to 11.5 million people. Nearly 90 percent of those who now have insurance through the Obamacare law are getting some or all of it paid for by someone else.

Guess who the “someone else” is.

In West Virginia, it’s even worse. The government estimates 17,092 of the 19,856 Mountain State residents who have signed up through the marketplace will get some assistance. Combine that with the whopping 136,418 the DHHS says have been added to the Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Programs.

Here, more than 98 percent of those covered courtesy of Obamacare are getting all or part of the tab covered by that mysterious “someone else.”

How in the world are we going to pay for all of this?

One more tidbit from the final signup numbers. There’s been some controversy over whether people signing up for marketplace coverage actually would pay the premiums.

Here in West Virginia, I’m told, about 73 percent of the enrollees – far higher than the national average – have paid.

So yes, we recognize a good deal when we see it. But when we make a commitment, we pay the bill.

Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.