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Some new Covered California enrollment data raise questions

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee.
Adrian Florido/KPCC
Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee at a Los Angeles news conference discussing the release of new enrollment data on Thursday.

Covered California released data Thursday that showed a sharp increase in the total number of people who signed up for health insurance on the state-run marketplace over the past five weeks, but a radical drop in the number of enrollees not receiving federal subsidies.

The agency said that a total of 109,296 people had enrolled in a health plan from Oct. 1-Nov. 30, but its statistics regarding how many received or did not receive federal subsidies varied wildly from October to November.

In statistics released last month for October enrollment, Covered California tallied 30,830 total enrollments, with 25,978 of those unsubsidized, and 4,852 subsidized. In Thursday's release, the agency said that of the 109,296 people enrolled over Oct.-Nov., 15,483 were unsubsidized, and 93,813 were subsidized. 

If those numbers are correct, that would mean that there was a net loss of 10,495 unsubsidized enrollments in November, and that every net enrollment that month would have been by someone who will receive subsidies. 

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When asked about the discrepancy at the news conference where he unveiled the Oct.-Nov. numbers, Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said, “It’s a good question,” adding that “we’ll check that and get back to you.”

Afterwards, agency spokesman Dana Howard said “those numbers are not going to change.” He speculated that some people could have cancelled their policies after enrolling, and that others could have gone back and changed their income information to become eligible for a subsidy.

Lee said the pace of enrollment continued to accelerate dramatically in the first week of December, as another 49,708 people selected plans from Dec. 1-7. That works out to a rate of more than 7,000 enrollments a day, compared with about 2,600 a day in November.

Covered California's breakdown of enrollment by age over its first two months showed almost no change from October: 58 percent of those enrolling from Oct. 1-Nov. 30 were 45 or older, an increase of two percent over October. Twenty-one percent of those signing up in the Oct.-Nov. period were 18 to 34, compared with 23 percent in October. People in that age group are the so-called Young Invincibles, the young and healthy individuals needed to sign up in large numbers to keep overall costs down. 

Covered California also broke down the Oct.-Nov. numbers by racial and ethnic groups. Of the total enrollees, about 49 percent identified as white, about 17 percent as Asian, about 10 percent as Latino, and about 3 percent as black.