'LA Times' Publishes Faulty Feel-Good Story About Obamacare State Exchanges

Monday's Los Angeles Times reported some rare "good news" for President Obama and his signature legislation. Under the headline, "Healthcare plan enrollment surges in some states after rocky rollout," piece uses partial information from five of the fifteen independent exchanges (14 states plus DC) to imply that things are wonderful in the state Obamacare exchanges. Many in the mainstream media, MSNBC for example, use this report to project Obamacare performance nationally.

According to the report:

A number of states that use their own systems, including California, are on track to hit enrollment targets for 2014 because of a sharp increase in November, according to state officials.

"What we are seeing is incredible momentum," said Peter Lee, director of Covered California, the nation's largest state insurance marketplace, which accounted for a third of all enrollments nationally in October. California — which enrolled about 31,000 people in health plans last month — nearly doubled that in the first two weeks of this month.

Several other states, including Connecticut and Kentucky, are outpacing their enrollment estimates, even as states that depend on the federal website lag far behind. In Minnesota, enrollment in the second half of October ran at triple the rate of the first half, officials said. Washington state is also on track to easily exceed its October enrollment figure, officials said.

The piece reports second half of October enrollments in Minnesota that were three times that of the first, it neglects to mention that the Department of Heath and Human Services reports Minnesota's entire October figure was a very disappointing 1,774. That same HHS document reported that Washington's October enrollment figure was only 7,091.  Easily exceeding that low figure, as the report claims, is not something to brag about.

It would have been appropriate for the LA Times to put the California enrollment number in context. According to the the State's Insurance Commissioner, the 31,000 enrollees is approximately 969,000 less than the count of people who lost their heath insurance because of Obamacare.

Other context that was omitted was the fact that in Kentucky, Connecticut, and California, the demographic mix of people signing up for plans appears to skew old, which will lead to enrollees' insurance being more expensive than expected. And the "successful" Washington exchange had a pricing error, meaning that about 8,000 people are finding out that they’ll be eligible for a smaller federal subsidy and will have to pay a higher out-of-pocket than they were informed via the exchange.  

The report glosses over the fact that the Oregon exchange hasn't signed up one person but points out the state has signed up 70,000 new people to Medicaid, 100% paid for by tax-payers. 

The LA Times piece neglects to mention the Maryland exchange is still experiencing major problems, and as The New York Times noted last week, Hawaii’s site went down on launch day, didn’t come back online for weeks, and “users continue to report problems.” Vermont’s exchange system does not yet process individual payments for insurers, which presumably complicates enrollment. 

There's lots of failure to spin, and LA Times seems determined to do just that.