Open Enrollment Deadline
Time: D H M S
Who the heck are you?
I'm a website developer in Michigan.
Why are you doing this?
Since the Affordable Care Act Healthcare Exchanges became active on October 1st, 2013, I (like many other people) was curious as to how the enrollments were going. I assumed that the HHS Dept, or at the very least one of the major news organizations (NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, USA Today, whoever) would be running some sort of daily (or at least weekly) tally of the numbers in something resembling real time.
I was rather surprised to find out that not only was HHS only going to be releasing their enrollment data on a monthly basis, but the data being provided by the major news outlets seemed to be scattershot at best. Yes, there were plenty of numbers being released, but no one seemed to be doing so on a regular, consistent, state-by-state basis. There was a lot of great reporting being done, but I could only find a couple of others that were tracking the actual data daily, so I decided to do so myself.
So, this wasn't your idea originally?
Not at all. I was actually inspired by a guy named Aaron Strauss, who had set up a Google spreadsheet to track the numbers. I set up my own version and beefed it up with additional data to give a more complete picture. Eventually Mr. Strauss abandoned his own effort, but I applaud him for getting the ball rolling. There was also a similar project started by The Advisory Board Company, but they abandoned their project in early November.
There is one other organization tracking ACA enrollment data on a daily basis as well: EnrollMaven.com. EM.com is openly opposed to (or at the very least, highly skeptical of) the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") and is concerned purely with how many people have enrolled in paid-for, Qualified Health Plans (QHP) with private, for-profit insurance companies. Their sole concern is the financial viability of the private ACA exchange system portion of the ACA, and as such, they do not track Medicaid or SCHIP expansion enrollments, since those are both publicly funded. There's nothing wrong with this, and I've found their own data sources to be reliable (in fact, I often cross-check my data sources with them, and occasionally use them as a resource for finding my own sources). [Update: Strike that; EnrollMaven.com abandoned their efforts sometime after New Year's Eve.]
Are you a professional statistician or analyst?
Not at all. I'm not doing actual analysis or true projections; I'm just plugging a bunch of data into a spreadsheet and adding it all up.
Are you a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, orderly or other type of healthcare industry worker?
No. I'm a website developer in Michigan.
Are you an insurance company employee or any other sort of healthcare industry expert?
No. I'm a website developer in Michigan.
Are you a paid political operative? Do you work for a political party or advocacy organization?
No. I'm active in the local Democratic party, but purely as a volunteer.
So, you completely support President Obama?
No, although I do think that Barack Obama has been a decent President as far as what used to be considered moderate Republican policies go. Frankly, in terms of both political philosophy as well as general temperament, the President he reminds me most of is George H.W. Bush (that's H.W., the father). Whether this should be taken as a compliment or an insult depends on your perspective.
What do you really think of the Affordable Care Act?
I think it's a huge, cumbersome, insanely overcomplicated law that creates a ton of headaches.
However, I also think that the healthcare system in the United States prior to the ACA was already cumbersome and overcomplicated, with its own headaches...and that it was hurting poor and middle-class people in terribly unfair and immoral ways. There are some elements of the ACA which I don't like one bit, such as it being a windfall to the for-profit health insurance industry...but I feel that the good that it does outweighs the bad. If it works as intended, it should stop some of the worst abuses of the industry, bring decent healthcare coverage to millions of people who didn't have it before, force insurance companies to use at least 80% of their premium revenue for actual healthcare costs, and pave the way for individual states to switch to single-payer plans if they so choose in the future.
So yes, overall I do want the ACA to work. However, wanting it to doesn't mean that it will. ACASignups.net was created to try and get a sense of whether or not it is working.
Does your data have a liberal bias, then?
Well, first of all, the ACA--or at least, the Private Exchange Enrollments portion of it--is hardly a "liberal" law. It requires millions of people to agree to pay private, for-profit corporations potentially billions of dollars each year, which isn't exactly part of the "progressive" political philosophy.
Having said that, my data comes from a variety of sources, including the HHS, the State-Run Exchange press releases and news outlets ranging from small local newspapers to major national news outlets. I do not guarantee that any of their data is accurate, but I do guarantee that any of their data that I enter into the spreadsheet is as accurate as I can make it given my limited time and resources. Occasionally I may make an honest mistake; when this happens, I attempt to correct it as quickly as possible and will also post an explanation of what happened in the blog as appropriate (see The Mystery of the Vanishing Minnesota Data for a case study).
Is it possible that some of the numbers provided by the HHS, local news outlets or national news outlets is erroneous? Of course. If so, is this deliberate on their part? Anything's possible, but I doubt it. We're all human; reporters make mistakes; editors make mistakes; government employees make mistakes and I make mistakes. All I can say is that I'm doing the best I can to keep the data on this site as accurate as I can, and I promise to make corrections (with notifications of those corrections as appropriate) as quickly as I can if they happen.
We're at the halfway point in the initial enrollment period. How's it going so far?
I'm writing this on New Year's Day, 2014, halfway through the 6-month enrollment period. As of today, I have the tally as just over 2.1 million private plan enrollees and 4 million Medicaid, SCHIP and/or other publicly financed healthcare plan enrollments. Depending on your perspective, you could tout this as either negative (the original CBO projection was for about 3.3 million private plan enrollments by 12/31/13, meaning that they're "only" at 63% of the "goal") or positive (after a horrendously screwed-up first month in October and part of November, the federal exchange and (most) of the state-run exchanges have turned things around in a big way and managed to ramp up enrollment tremendously in December).
Like so many other political stories, whether this is a "good" or "bad" thing really depends on your perspective. My take is that I'm cautiously optimistic going forward, but will continue to report the data as accurately as I can, whether it supports or opposes my personal hopes.
Do you know Nate Silver?
Never met the man, though we probably exchanged a comment or two way back when he posted as "Poblano" on Daily Kos. The only connection I have to him is that we're both Jewish (well, he's half Jewish), both from Michigan and both used to be active on Daily Kos (I still am; he, of course, has gone on to much fame and fortune).
Who's paying you to run this site?
No one. I'm not being paid. It started as a hobby, then turned into something of an obsession, and now that I have prominent people paying attention to my work, I kind of feel obligated to keep it going, at least through March 31, 2014, when the enrollment period ends.
Do you plan on profiting off the site?
This is a labor of love with a limited lifespan. I've added a PayPal donation link to the menu for anyone who feels like throwing a few bucks my way, and have added a couple of banner ads (which don't exactly generate buckets of cash), but that's about it. If you happen to be in need of a decent website at a reasonable price, feel free to take a look at my development services. I do have my own healthcare policy to pay for...
Speaking of which...
As a final note, for the record: Yes, our own old plan was among those cancelled by BCBSM here in Michigan; yes, we replaced it through a new plan via the (finally working) Healthcare.gov federal exchange; and while our premiums did go up, our coverage did as well, which means that for us, at least, the whole thing looks like it'll be a wash...
...Which means that on a personal level, I anticipate literally neither financially gaining nor losing anything one way or the other from the implementation of the ACA. That seems fitting given the nature of this project.