Did you wait on pins and needles for the latest Obamacare enrollment numbers to be announced a few days ago? I didn't think so.
After the disastrous opening month for the online health insurance marketplaces, many Americans seem to have moved beyond the point of caring about what happens next. Nevertheless, the enrollment numbers keep rolling in from the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS. Were there any surprises from the December report? Some were relatively ho-hum -- but at least one was downright shocking.
For the most part, the latest Obamacare enrollment numbers weren't surprising. HHS reported that online applications picked up considerably in November as compared to October. But virtually everyone expected this to occur because of the huge problems experienced initially.
As of Nov. 30, just shy of 365,000 indiduals had selected an insurance plan. The majority of those individuals -- 227,478, to be exact -- used the state-run marketplaces. HealthCare.gov, the much-maligned federally operated insurance website, was used by 137,204 individuals to select a plan.
HHS's report from the first month of operation counted 106,185 Americans who selected an insurance plan. A grand total of 26,794 of those stemmed from HealthCare.gov. The latest numbers definitely reflect improvement, but not nearly at the pace needed to meet Obamacare enrollment projections.
While an increase in submitted applications was expected, other numbers released by HHS were at least somewhat surprising. For example, interest in visiting HealthCare.gov tapered off considerably. In October, there were around 19.5 million visitors to the federal website. That number fell to less than 9 million during November -- a 45% decline.
Most of those visitors are still just kicking the tires. That's not particularly remarkable, but how high the percentage of the "just looking" crowd compared with total visitors is might raise some eyebrows. Out of the 28.4 million total visitors to HealthCare.gov between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, more than 99.5% of them left without selecting an insurance plan.
The December HHS report also revealed that just two states -- California and New York -- together reported more individuals selecting an insurance plan than all of the 36 states using the federal website combined. California counted more than 107,000 residents who selected an insurance plan on the state's online marketplace, while New York's figure totaled more than 45,000.
One number from the December Obamacare enrollment report, however, is truly shocking. Buried in the detailed statistics from HHS lies the enrollment figure reported by the state of Oregon. In the first two months of operations, Oregon had only 44 people select an insurance plan -- less than one person per day. Ouch.
That's bad news for Health Net (NYSE: HNT). The publicly traded health insurer is one of less than a dozen companies competing in the Oregon online marketplace. Health Net and the others were undoubtedly banking on more than double-digit enrollment numbers.
It's also potentially bad news for Oracle (NYSE:ORCL). The technology giant served as the primary contractor in developing Oregon's health-care exchange. Gov. John Kitzhaber publicly blasted Oracle, stating that he told the company's executives that his state expected "a fully functioning website with no additional cost to the state." Oregon's organization running the exchange is also engaging legal counsel to hold contractors feet to the fire.
Perhaps even more shocking is that the national Obamacare enrollment figures could be too optimistic. That's because they include individuals who haven't paid their first premium yet. Without payment, most insurers won't officially count these individuals as being enrolled. My hunch is that many in the federal government and in a handful of insurance companies are anxiously awaiting the real enrollment numbers -- and they are probably waiting on pins and needles.