A New Obamacare Mystery: How Many Uninsured People Signed Up For New Coverage?

| Thu May 1, 2014 7:44 PM EDT

The fine folks at HHS released some new data on Obamacare signups today. Quick stats: 8 million people signed up; 34 percent are under age 35; and 54 percent are female. But here's the head scratcher:

Of the 5.45 million people who selected a Marketplace plan through the [federal exchange]....5.18 million (95 percent) applied for financial assistance and were required to answer a question about their health insurance coverage.  Of these 5.18 million who applied for financial assistance and selected in a plan, 695,011 (13 percent) indicated that they had coverage at the time of application.

So this means that on the federal exchange, about 4.5 million people signed up who were previously uninsured. If we figure a somewhat lower rate for the 2.6 million who signed up via state exchanges, you can add about 2 million to that number.

In other words, in total, the exchanges signed up about 6.5 million people who were previously uninsured. This is far, far higher than previous estimates of about 3 million or so. I'm not sure what to make of this given the amount of survey data that produced the smaller figure. Perhaps it's a difference in what counts as uninsured? Or a difference in how people respond to pollsters vs. how they respond to an official question on an application. Hard to say. The full HHS report is here, and it acknowledges the different estimates but provides no guesses about why they vary so widely.

For now, just take this as a bit of a mystery. In a month or two we'll probably have much firmer data on all this stuff.

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