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Mary Bennett, left, helps Min Lians, who is seeking help buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Associated Press/Photo by Seth Perlman, File
Mary Bennett, left, helps Min Lians, who is seeking help buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Employer-based health insurance takes a hit

Healthcare

New data from health insurance providers suggests more than 1.7 million people lost coverage through their jobs between October 2013 and March of this year. Analysts, though, put off making sweeping judgements about any connection to the Affordable Care Act and its health insurance exchanges.

Prior to this summer, most useful enrollment data came from surveys because of vague Obama administration numbers. Federal officials wouldn’t say how many of the reported 8 million enrollees on Obamacare exchanges had paid their premiums or how many were previously uninsured. Now researchers can analyze data from the insurers and states themselves for the entire open enrollment period, from October 1 through March 31.

Market strategists Mark Farrah Associates compiled the nationwide data, and the conservative Heritage Foundation claims the study puts a damper on Obama’s rosy enrollment numbers. The private individual market added 2.2 million new customers by the end of those six months. But employers dropping insurance wiped out almost all of those gains—down to about 520,000.

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Those numbers weren’t entirely unexpected. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in April that Obamacare would cause employers to drop coverage to more than 8 million employees through 2018. But the CBO estimated a loss of only 2 million through 2015. If the current trend continues in upcoming data covering April through June—having already lost 1.7 million—employer-based insurance could be in more trouble than many thought.

But enrollment in government-run insurance, on the other hand, is going gangbusters. Data showed that Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program numbers increased by 5 million, largely due to states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to able-bodied adults without dependent children.

While the difference between government and private insurance numbers is stark, Heritage researchers said that only tells part of the story. The last-minute surge of applicants who selected plans in March likely did not have active coverage by the end of that month, the analysis cut-off point. In addition, the Obama administration extended the enrollment deadline into April for those who had begun the process but had not finished.

Heritage estimates private insurance rolls will balloon with as many as 4.5 million additional enrollees once second quarter data is available. That would bring enrollment closer to CBO estimates for 2014, which expected Medicaid to outpace private insurance by 1 million enrollees.

“You still have more than half of any increase in health coverage in 2014 coming from Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid,” said study co-author Edmund Haislmaier.

That net spike in the insured seems to be paying off for some healthcare providers. Some hospitals, like Seattle Children’s Hospital, went to court last year because many private Washington networks excluded them. But The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the newly insured may actually be bringing big profits to hospital chains. Since April, some hospitals have brought in profits 40 percent higher than the same period last year.

Andrew Branch
Andrew Branch

Andrew is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. He was homeschooled for 12 years and recently graduated from N.C. State University. He writes about sports and poverty for WORLD. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewABranch.

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