The 5 States With the Highest Obamacare Enrollment Figures


The rollout of Obamacare's state and federally run health exchanges has been like a freeway construction project in Southern California so far -- you know it's going to make things better, but it always seems to go over budget and the completion time is nowhere near the original projection. Can you guess where I grew up?

Source: White House on Flickr.

The flash-bang start has certainly been an adventure -- but a relatively bifurcated one. For those who live in one of the 36 states operating under the federally run, attempting to access the insurance marketplace has been a glitch-filled nightmare. Overloaded servers have slowed response times to a crawl while the information technology architecture behind the system is having difficulty determining subsidies and completing the identification process to allow consumers to create an account and shop for health insurance. Not surprisingly, the Department of Health and Human Services has been unwilling and/or unable to give enrollment figures for any of those 36 states.

On the other hand, state-run exchanges have seen some remarkable success. We're not talking about a flawless execution here -- Oregon's live marketplace isn't up and running yet, Hawaii has been dealing with software glitches that haven't allowed it to sell a single policy to date, and Vermont was forced to turn to slower paper applications as it sorts out its technical issues. However, more state-run exchanges than not are functioning well.

These five states have seen the best results
Of the 14 state-run exchange states -- and with the exception of Minnesota, which had a technical glitch with its reporting -- 10 have reported enrollment figures through the first two weeks. Here are the five states that have signed up the greatest number of enrollees so far, according to The Atlantic:


Total Enrollment

New York










Source: The Atlantic.

New York and my home state of Washington certainly shouldn't be surprises at the top. Not to give too much credit early on to politics, but citizens in both states overwhelmingly supported passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and should expect a strong turnout from currently uninsured persons.

Perhaps the biggest shock here would be the incredibly weak turnout through two weeks in California. Enrolling 16,300 people is solid, but relative to the congressional estimates released prior to the opening of the health exchanges on Oct. 1, California may be one of the biggest disappoints of them all. According to those estimates, New York and Washington were expected to bring in 218,000 and 340,000 new members, respectively, and look to be well on their way to hitting those goals. By contrast, California was expected to bring in 1.3 million by itself -- practically 20% of the 7 million members Obamacare had hoped to enroll -- yet only managed to bring in 1.25% of that total through two weeks.

Are these results good or bad for insurers?
The big question probably reverberating through your mind now, especially if you own health insurance stock, is whether these enrollment figures are good or bad for the industry. The truth is that it really depends on the state in which the insurance company operates.

Insurers in Washington, for example, have to be enjoying the early success with close to 25,000 enrollees. However, there are few ways investors have been able to take advantage of this success since major insurers Premera Blue Cross and Group Health are both nonprofit health organizations. If there's one winner, here it could be Centene with its Ambetter Bronze plan, which clocked in as the lowest in the state for my age group and was successful in luring me in! Centene typically targets lower-income consumers and aims for lower-tier pricing, so it could have early success in garnering bronze-level consumers.

Californian insurers, though, should be a bit concerned by these early figures. I'm specifically thinking of WellPoint and Health Net , which are among the four largest insurers in California that control about 75% of the state health insurance market. WellPoint has made a sizable $4.5 billion bet on Amerigroup that it'll see strong sign-ups in California, among other states, but that bet is clearly not paying off through the first two weeks.

Overall, though, we seem to be tracking below expectations when it comes to enrolling 7 million people before the March 31, 2014, coverage cutoff date. Extrapolating the some 115,000 members who have signed up cumulatively on the state exchanges through the first two weeks brings us close to 2.8 million members by that deadline. That would mean we would need to see more than 4 million members sign up through to hit 7 million, and no one is really certain when it'll be functional enough to handle the weight of traffic and complex data from 36 states.

Where does this leave us?
As I've said before, new technology often takes time to sort out, and when you add in the complexity of this health reform it's definitely not an overnight fix. Preceding health reform overhauls in many cases took up to a year to become practically glitch-free, so we're probably going to be talking about enrollment snafus for months to come.

Although these enrollment issues are creating near-term disappointments for insurers and could give investors in these companies some short-term indigestion, the extended outlook for the sector still looks bright once's problems are resolved. It may not happen this year, or the federal government may need to extend the coverage block further than March 31, 2014, but insurers still appear set up to thrive over the long run under Obamacare.

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