We are starting to see early reports on "enrollment" numbers in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplaces in various places.  It could be a real wild ride, and as in any reports on data, it could get very confusing.  And, unfortunately, when numbers are confusing, and all over the place, that could lead to a situation where pundits or politicians pick and choose the numbers they want to choose to make the numbers look bad, or good, depending on their point of view.

Officially the federal government is supposed to release data on Wednesday, or so I hear. But some press reports or leaks are coming out already, apparently.  So here are some tips:

  • The now-infamous "healthcare.gov" website applies only to the federal marketplace;
Also, note this about the numbers, yet a few more nuances:

  • it appears that some analysts are reporting data from reports obtained from the private insurance plans themselves, while sometimes the reports are coming from government (state or federal) sources.  It seems these numbers could be quite different, as there could be a significant lag in completed applications at the governmental level, but a private insurer deciding they have a completed application, even if both parts of this transaction are working hard and being completely forthcoming.
Why does all this matter?  Aside from the perhaps obvious "spin factor", here are some important points:

  • reports have surfaced for a while now that to date more people are enrolling in Medicaid than in private plans nationwide, perhaps by a 2:1 ratio. Personally this does not surprise me or alarm me at this early date -- why? because the most desperate people are likely those with the lowest incomes, and also since those signing up for Medicaid don't need to pay a premium they can sign up now, whereas those that sign up for Exchanges may need to pay so they may wait until later in the year.
  • perhaps it is obvious, but it is important to point out that the number of "applications" will be greater than the number of completed applications or officially counted "enrollees" 

So this seems to be the landscape as we are about ready to launch into what is likely to be a wild ride this week.  How is "Obamacare" going?  Lots of people enrolling? 50,000 or over 200,000?  Pathetic or not? On pace with other historic rollouts of social programs or not?  Watch closely to see what numbers are cited and how they are spun, and if the person citing them seems to really understand the law at all.