Let's dig a little deeper into the enrollment numbers.

Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Obamacare Inflates Its Numbers. I Feel Sick.

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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I’ve complained at great length about the Barack Obama administration’s lack of transparency surrounding the Affordable Care Act. But I don’t even know what to say about this latest revelation, courtesy of Bloomberg News’s own Alex Wayne: The administration counted stand-alone dental plans in order to claim that 7.3 million people had signed up during the first open enrollment period. Without the addition of the dental plans, enrollment would have very slightly missed its target of 7 million enrollees. Moreover, simple arithmetic indicates that it is still counting them in its current claims about enrollment.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell seems to be saying that this was some sort of mistake. And it’s possible that this is all it is. But I would be more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt if the administration hadn’t otherwise been managing enrollment data so aggressively, releasing good figures as soon as it had them but sitting on bad data as long as possible, and ceasing to issue regular reports as soon as open enrollment stopped and the numbers began to decline rather than rise.

Obamacare, Assessed

If it was deliberate, this is not your standard political puffery. It’s pathological, like your college roommate who doesn’t just inflate her number of boyfriends or exaggerate some details for the sake of a funnier story, but also insists that she is in the CIA. The numbers would have been rounded up to 7 million anyway, because they missed by something like 3,000 people. Adding in a bunch of unrelated plans, with all the attendant risk of being exposed and embarrassed, seems flatly insane. In fact, this is the most compelling reason to believe that it was a mistake.

If it was a mistake, however, I’m not sure how much better that is supposed to make us feel. For the administration to have this poor a handle on its own data while attempting to make over almost one-fifth of the U.S. economy is a lot more frightening than some rather pedestrian lies.

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To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net