Obamacare Might Have Enrolled Only 2.3 Million; Spent $73 Billion to Save Less Than $6 Billion in Uncompensated Care

According to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), it looks like the number of people who bought subsidized private insurance on Obamacare’s exchanges is only 2.3 million: “Based on an estimated 10.3 million decrease in the total number of uninsured and an estimated 8 million increase in the number covered by Medicaid, ASPE estimates that hospital uncompensated care costs will be $5.7 billion lower in 2014 than they otherwise would have been.” The difference between 10.3 million and 8 million is only 2.3 million, and that is quite a comedown from HHS’s May estimate that 8.1 million people “selected” private coverage in exchanges.

The number of newly insured is important, because if we asked an Obamacare advocate for a one-sentence justification for Obamacare’s increased federal spending on Medicaid or tax credits for private health insurance, it would go something like this: “People with health insurance will get timely primary care, and that will relieve the pressure on hospitals’ emergency departments.” This feel-good statement has been rolled out countless of times by advocates of so-called universal coverage. Empirically, it falls flat: Emergency departments are jammed with patients, post-Obamacare.

However, it does benefit hospitals, which can monetize more of their ED care, which was previously uncompensated. Let’s accept that $5.7 billion estimated drop in uncompensated care costs. How much did it cost taxpayers to buy that reduction?

The answer comes from Bloomberg Government’s Peter Gosselin: We’ve spent $73 billion on Obamacare so far. Gosselin has added up all the spending on health IT, grants, contracts, and subsidies, as shown in the chart below:

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see the Independent Institute’s widely acclaimed book: Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman.

John R. Graham is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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