The Health Care Spectator

The Media Smears More Lipstick on Obamacare

But the pig still looks like a pig.

By 6.23.14

(White House)
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The legacy news media are once again doting on the porcine Affordable Care Act with an extravagance not lavished on a pig since P.G. Wodehouse created the immortal Empress of Blandings. If you are unfamiliar with the latter, she was a gigantic Berkshire sow who was treated by her aristocratic owner with a level of reverence that caused his friends and family to question his grip on reality. Likewise, after an all-too-brief flirtation with fact-based journalism inspired by the bungled rollout of Healthcare.gov, mainstream reporters have reverted to coverage of Obamacare that suggests they, too, may be delusional.

Most voters view Obamacare as a bloated, stinking beast. Yet, if you browse the web for recent news on the president’s “signature domestic achievement” your search engine will return countless articles describing it as a spectacular success story. They all have titles like, “Millions Paying less than $100 per month for Obamacare,” “Obamacare ‘sticker shock’ not so shocking, conservative economist suggests,” and “Most Obamacare exchange enrollees were previously uninsured, study finds.” These stories seem to be at odds with well-documented facts and strangely similar to Obama administration talking points.

This is no coincidence. The figures used in the hundreds of articles about the low cost of Obamacare plans, for example, come directly from the administration. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a “research brief” that claims, “During the open enrollment period, more than 5.4 million people selected a Marketplace plan through the Federally-facilitated Marketplace [FFM]…Approximately 87 percent of individuals in the FFM selected plans with tax credits…The average tax credit amount was $264 and the after-tax credit premium was $82.” The media gleefully reported this as good news.

CNN, for example, reported, “The federal government is shelling out $264 a month, on average, for people who qualify for premium subsidies on the Obamacare federal exchange.” But the government doesn’t “shell out” anything. It takes our money and gives it away. So, how much will it take from us and give to these people? Well, 87 percent of 5.4 million comes to about 4.7 million. And these folks are going to receive an average of $264 from us every month. That’s more than $1.2 billion per month. This comes to more than $14 billion over the course of a year, and well over $140 billion over the next decade—out of your pocket.

OK, then, what about Obamacare’s less-than-shocking sticker shock? According to a story in the Washington Post, “Consumers who bought their own coverage between 2010 and 2012 saw the average cost of their plan increase between 14 percent and 28 percent when they switched to new coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to Mark Pauly, a professor of health-care management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.” Wait a minute. President Obama promised us that health insurance premiums were going to go down by $2,500 per family. So, how can double-digit premium hikes be good news?

It turns out that this is “good news” only because Professor Pauly’s figures aren’t as high as those shown in other studies. Avik Roy reports, for example, that the Manhattan Institute has just completed a county-by-county analysis on this issue. And the news isn’t quite as “good” as the study quoted by the Post. “Yesterday, the Manhattan Institute published the most comprehensive study yet on the topic, analyzing premium data from 3,137 U.S. counties, and finding an average rate hike of 49 percent.” So, our choices on Obamacare rate shock are bad (Pauly) or really, really bad (Roy). Either way, President Obama lied to the voters.

What about that new survey showing that most Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured? As it happens, that was conducted by the left-of-center Kaiser Family Foundation and its results are highly suspect. According to the announcement that appeared at Kaiser’s web site, “Nearly six in 10 Americans who bought insurance for this year through the health law’s online marketplaces were previously uninsured—most for at least two years, according to a new survey that looks at the experiences of those most affected by the law.” Why is this suspect? Because it contradicts every other credible study that has been done on the issue.

Two of those studies were conducted recently by organizations with unimpeachable reputations for non-partisanship—the Rand Corporation and McKinsey & Company. And their numbers are far lower than those produced by Kaiser. As the Washington Post points out, “A Rand Corp. survey in April found that one-third of exchange enrollees were previously uninsured. McKinsey & Co. last month reported 26 percent of people purchasing plans in the individual market, on and off the exchange, were previously uninsured.” So, how did Kaiser manage to double the figures produced by these organizations? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

And for the left, including the reporters of mainstrem news organizations, there is a strong desire to make Obamacare look successful and therefore render it less dangerous for the Democrats this fall. Unlike Lord Emsworth, the eccentric owner of the Empress of Blandings, they aren’t really delusional. They are simply dishonest. So, they produce studies that don’t pass the laugh test, pretend that double-digit increases in insurance premiums are no big deal, and represent huge taxpayer-funded subsidies as something to be celebrated. But no matter how much lipstick the media smears on this pig, they’ll never make it look like a unicorn. 

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About the Author

David Catron is a health care consultant. He has an MBA from the University of Georgia and blogs at Health Care BS.