President Obama did a victory lap Tuesday after announcing in a Rose Garden press conference that - miraculously - "enrollments" in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges had surged to 7.1 million by the March 31 signup deadline.
"The debate over repealing this law is over," the president crowed, before chastising the press for front page articles about website outages and other woes on the exchanges. (One commentator referred to the latter remarks as an effort to "work the referees" in hopes the media would back off reporting some of the enormous remaining technical problems with the exchanges.)
So Obamacare is actually a success, the critics were wrong, and the 12 Democratic senators facing re-election will stop running away from it and embrace the program, right? Don't count on it.
If one looks past natural suspicions about the eleventh-hour success (remember, this is the administration that told us the U.S. embassy in Benghazi was attacked over a movie, and that if you like your health insurance, you can keep it) and accepts the 7.1 million as accurate, it does nothing to address underlying facts that spell ruin for Obamacare.
When the Affordable Care Act was first passed the White House said on its own blog that the objective was to provide health insurance coverage to 30 million of the roughly 48 million Americans who - then and now - have no health coverage. The White House said 16 million would gain coverage through expansion of eligibility limits in Medicaid programs and another 24 million would buy insurance, much of it subsidized, on the exchanges.
Even if all 7.1 million enrollees on the exchange were previously uninsured, the program will have fallen well short of those goals. But the big problem for the president and the program is that it appears most who signed up already had insurance.
The British Daily Mail reported Wednesday that there is a Rand Corporation study the administration has tried to keep under wraps that shows as few as 858,000 of the enrollees who have actually paid premiums are previously uninsured. If that number is anywhere close to accurate, Obamacare will prove a complete disaster.
The White House has been under fire for months now for asserting that while it knows how many people have "enrolled" through the exchanges, which means they registered and put a plan in their electronic shopping cart, it has no idea how many people actually concluded the transactions and purchased insurance. Major e-retailers such as Amazon know through experience that many such shopping cart transactions end up being abandoned. So the fact the White House could tell us Tuesday that precisely 7,041,000 people have enrolled through the exchanges but it doesn't know how many actually paid and are insured makes the claim of success doubly suspicious.
Both the Rand study and other analyses have suggested that as many as 75 percent of those actually buying insurance on the exchanges were previously insured. Some are people whose employers dropped insurance and dumped their employees into the exchanges. Many more are people whose individual policies were canceled under Obamacare rules that require people to have coverage for things they neither want nor need, like maternity care.
If the Rand study proves accurate, and Obamacare reduces the number of previously uninsured by less than 1 million despite all of its disruptions and costs, it will potentially be the greatest political debacle in the history of our democracy.