WASHINGTON — Between 80% and 90% of new health exchange enrollees have paid their first month's premium, insurers told Congress Wednesday during a hearing.
"We are seeing strong membership growth and large percentages of our newly enrolled are successfully paying their premiums by the due date," Dennis Matheis, president of WellPoint's central region and exchange strategy, said.
Matheis said 70% of all new enrollees had paid their first premium, but that not all premiums were due by April 15, the deadline for which the committee had asked for numbers. About 90% of those whose first due date had passed had paid their premiums, he said.
"It is typically human nature" for people to wait until the last minute to pay their premiums, he said.
The insurers appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee to talk about payment percentages and enrollment numbers. Another panel, the House Ways and Means Committee, released a report last week emphasizing that only 70% of enrollees had paid their premiums, while the insurers themselves emphasized that people still had time to pay.
"We recognize that many individuals still have time to pay their first month's premium, which is why we have asked insurers to update this information on May 20," said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. "Let's be clear about why we had to engage in this exercise in the first place: The administration would not be transparent about enrollment and implementation."
But Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called the enrollment a "success" with more than 8 million people signed up for private plans.
"Of these, more than 3 million Americans waited until the last month of enrollment to sign up for insurance, which made their first payments due April 30 or later," she said, adding that the Republicans' report on premiums was deliberately misleading.
Health Care Service Corp. processed about 830,000 applications, said J. Darren Rodgers, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, with that representing about 1.3 million people. While emphasizing that not all payment deadlines have passed, he said that paid premiums are in the mid-80% range so far.
And Paul Wingle, executive director of individual business and public exchange operations and strategy at Aetna, said 600,000 people had enrolled and 500,000 people had paid.
"For those who had reached their payment due date, the payment rate, though dynamic, has been in the low- to mid-80% range," Wingle said.
Frank Coyne, vice president for operations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, said about 284,000 people had enrolled in their plans but did not state how many had paid their first premiums.
Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, asked the insurers if the Obama administration knows how many people have paid their premiums. The insurers said no.
"It's my understanding that that capability is not present yet," Matheis said.
Matheis said their hasn't been a member-by-member breakdown.
"One reason there is uncertainty about the number of exchange enrollees who have paid their premiums is that some insurers — to provide peace of mind for consumers and to protect them from potential gaps in coverage — have voluntarily decided to provide flexibility in the deadline by which exchange enrollees must pay their first month's premium," said Mark Pratt, senior vice president of state affairs for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group.
Insurers also have duplicate enrollments caused by the disastrous launch of the federal HealthCare.gov exchange website. Many people were advised to start from scratch, but their original applications were still in the system, Pratt said.
The insurers said back-end payment issues are still causing problems.
Murphy asked about premium rate changes, as well as how many had been previously insured, but the insurers said they did not have that data.
Wingle and Matheis said insurers are at the beginning of the process of determining next year's premiums.
"Some might see double-digit increases in their premiums, is that what you're saying?" Murphy asked.
Wingle and Matheis said it's too early to know.
"Let me cut to the chase," Murphy said, and asked the insurers if an influx of older, sicker enrollees would cause premiums to go up.
"As two of my colleagues have said, the rates have not been finalized yet," Rodgers said.
Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, asked if the insurers could name any states where premiums would go down. The insurers said they do not yet have that data.
"OK, a lot of uncertainty floating around out there," Blackburn said. "Do any of you have any internal analysis? Raise your hands for me."
None of the insurers raised their hands.
Matheis said it typically takes three months or so and that analysis is on-going. They are just beginning to learn the demographics of the new enrollees, including their health status, so it's impossible to know yet what premiums would like, he said. However, he said he expected to have that information by the end of May.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill, used her time to ask the insurers if the insurance plans were now government-controlled and if health care had become socialized, to which the insurers answered "no."
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