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White House wrongly counted dental plans in Obamacare enrollment numbers

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  1. Obama administration has included enrollment in dental plans in its most recent sign-up figures, Bloomberg reported Thursday.
  2. Health and Human Services says it made a "mistake" in counting dental sign-ups, while House Republicans charge that the Obama administration was trying to hide enrollment figures.
  3. The White House has set a goal of enrolling 9.1 million people through the exchanges in 2015.
  4. On Twitter, Secretary Burwell says "The mistake we made is unacceptable. I will be communicating that clearly throughout the dept."

White House says it made a "mistake" counting dental plans

The Obama administration included dental plan sign-ups in a recent report of Obamacare enrollment numbers, Bloomberg News reported Thursday afternoon.

The White House had previously said in September 7.3 million people  were enrolled in insurance coverage through the marketplaces. An analysis of those enrollments, provided to Bloomberg by the House Oversight and Government Committee, shows that as many as 400,000 of those plans were just for dental coverage and not medical plans.

Health and Human Services has issued a statement saying the numbers were included by "mistake" and that, without including dental plans, Obamacare enrollment is currently at 6.7 million:

A mistake was made in calculating the number of individuals with effectuated Marketplace enrollments. We have determined that individuals who had both Marketplace medical and dental coverage were erroneously counted in our recent announcements. The correct number of individuals with effectuated Marketplace medical coverage as of October 15 is approximately 6.7 million. Our target for 2015 open enrollment remains 9.1 million individuals. Moving forward only individuals with medical coverage will be included in our effectuated enrollment numbers.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell also tweeted ths:

And she also posted this on Facebook, in a pre-scheduled chat with MSNBC host Chris Hayes:


Without counting the dental plan sign-ups, the White House falls below federal projections of 7 million sign-ups in 2014. House Republicans have charged that the White House was trying to hide the actual enrollment numbers.

"Instead of offering the public an accurate accounting, the administration engaged in an effort to obscure and downplay the number of dropouts," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told Bloomberg in a statement.

When MSNBC's Hayes asked Burwell whether there would be an investigation into the issue, she did not answer that specific question.


Obamacare sign-up data has been sparse since the spring

white house

(Mark Wilson / Getty News Images)

Even prior to the Oversight report, the White House had already come under criticism for a lack of transparency around Obamacare enrollment numbers.

During the health law's open enrollment period, which ran from November 2013 to March 2014, Health and Human Services issued detailed, monthly enrollment reports. The most recent of these, published on May 1, ran 42 pages. It had information on sign-ups by state, by type of insurance plan, and by certain demographic characteristics, like age and gender.

In February, Health and Human Services began breaking out dental enrollment numbers as a separate category from medical plan sign-ups. The Obama administration reported 421,000 stand-alone dental plan enrollments as of February 1, and then 1.1 million sign-ups in May.

The Obama administration has not published any comparable breakdowns of enrollment figures since that last report in May, when the open enrollment period ended. Obamacare sign-ups, meanwhile, have fluctuated: people have moved on and off of the insurance marketplace as they moved states, gained jobs (or lost them), and other large, life changes that would lead to a change in insurance status.

The White House has released two numbers since May.  In September, Medicare administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified before Congress that there were 7.3 million people enrolled in Obamacare (the figure that we now know includes dental plans).

"This is the most recent count of people who have coverage throughout the Marketplace," Centers for Medicare and Medicaid administrator Marilyn Tavenner said at that hearing. "Each month, this number will change slightly as consumers transition in and out of coverage as their life circumstances change- everything from getting a new job, to moving to a new state, or becoming eligible for Medicaid or Medicare."

In mid-November, Health and Human Services issued a report saying that 7.1 million people had "effectuated coverage through the Marketplace." That report does not mention dental coverage, and whether it is included in the larger figure.

Since this month's open enrollment period began on November 15, the Obama administration has said that 100,000 people submitted applications for insurance coverage during the first two days. But applying for coverage is only the first step; shopper also need to select a health insurance plan and pay a premium in order to be signed up. And Health and Human Services has declined to provide information on that figure which, as the Huffington Post's Jeff Young points out, is near certainly lower.

Some states, like Massachusetts and Kentucky, have been posting daily enrollment numbers. When Erik Wemple at the Washington Post asked Health and Human Services why they couldn't do the same, "We have put out daily numbers since the start of Open Enrollment to show that the site is ready for people to come back and shop for the coverage that meets their needs, and we will continue to put out information in a timely way."

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