More Americans watched the lowest-rated network television program last Sunday night, Fox's Bob's Burgers, than enrolled in Obamacare during the month of October. Nearly 32 times more.
The White House hasn't announced official enrollment numbers from November, but some figures are already being leaked by insiders. With the Healthcare.gov website working better than it has in the past, more leaks could be on the way -- especially if volume picks up significantly. While all we have are leaks right now, here are three things to expect when the enrollment numbers are announced later in December.
1. Higher overall numbers
Figures announced in December for the month of November will be higher than the October numbers. That's practically a given, considering that fewer than 27,000 individuals signed up on the Healthcare.gov website during the first month of operation. Just over 106,000 enrolled, including all of the state-run exchange totals. It can only go up from there.
Bloomberg reported that, according to an insider with knowledge about how things are going, around 100,000 Americans signed up for insurance on Healthcare.gov in November. CNBC also stated that a source provided a similar figure. If this number is close, it reflects improvement -- but not nearly enough. For Obamacare to be successful, federal officials estimate that around 7 million must enroll by the end of March.
A key thing to keep in mind, however, is that the official numbers released in December won't count enrollment completed after the Nov. 30 deadline for many of the website fixes. The November enrollment figures announced in December won't mean nearly as much as the December numbers that will be announced in January.
2. Slowing Medicaid trend
During the first month of open enrollment, over 3.7 times more Americans were identified as eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) than signed up for private health insurance. Expect the numbers announced in December to show even higher Medicaid and CHIP numbers, though those figures will probably reflect less of the overall total than earlier.
There's one big reason why this should be the case. Because Medicaid and CHIP are free, visitors on the federally operated website and the state-run sites would be less likely to give up in frustration compared to people having to endure the headaches to fork out money from their pocketbooks for health insurance. With incremental improvements made during November, it stands to reason that the percentage of Medicaid and CHIP enrollees announced in December could decline from October.
3. More problems
Even with higher overall enrollment numbers, expect more enrollment problems to crop up. Aetna (NYSE: AET ) CEO Mark Bertolini was probably right when he stated in mid-October that "there's so much wrong, you just don't know what's broken until you get a lot more of it fixed." The reality with software development is that correcting the first wave of bugs often leads to the discovery of more glitches.
This already appears to have been the case. In early November, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the Healthcare.gov website needed "a couple of hundred" fixes when it was first launched. Yet in a report released on Dec. 1, HHS stated that more than 400 bugs were corrected. Don't be surprised if plenty of additional issues are found during the next few weeks that impact Obamacare enrollment.
Winning the expectations game
Who wins if these expectations prove to be on target? We at The Motley Fool focus on investing, so let's look at potential winning stocks.
Which company gains the most from higher enrollment numbers depends largely on how much higher those numbers are -- and, more importantly, how much stronger enrollment grows during December. If the figures are disappointing, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) could be looking pretty smart for taking cautious approaches towards participation in the Obamacare exchanges. If the reports exceed expectations, WellPoint (NYSE: WLP ) stands in a good position to be a beneficiary. The nation's second-largest health insurer is participating in the exchanges in every state where it operates.
If the Medicaid enrollment trend slows only slightly -- or actually grows -- WellPoint could also emerge as a big winner. The company boasts the highest Medicaid membership of all of the large health insurers. Aetna and UnitedHealth should also benefit from continued strength in the Medicaid enrollment.
And what if more technical problems are found? Despite getting bad press from earlier issues, CGI Group (NYSE: GIB ) could still conceivably win -- particularly if the problems are found in areas where the company's employees have the most expertise.
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