“Conservative Crybabies Lose Again”: The Right’s Laughable New Obamacare Conspiracies, Officially Debunked
If you click through a few conservative news websites, you’ll learn all about the latest and most nefarious bit of lawless chicanery from the Obama administration as it tries to paper over the Affordable Care Act’s obvious failures. Jumping off from a New York Times report that the Census Bureau “is changing its annual [healthcare] survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report,” conservatives have put two and two together and come up with CONSPIRACY.
Megan McArdle asks, “Is Obama cooking the Census books for Obamacare?” Townhall’s Guy Benson suspects this change was implemented to boost Democratic fortunes for the midterms: “The brand new survey questions will unquestionably ‘reveal’ a dramatic decrease in the uninsured population, bureau experts say, which will deliver Democrats a super handy talking point. And oh-by-the-way, the artificially improved numbers will be released … this fall.” Mediaite’s Noah Rothman writes that the conservatives who argle-bargled in 2009 about the White House politicizing the census now look prescient. “The fears of some that the Census Bureau could be corrupted by the imperatives of the political operatives in the White House was today proven accurate.”
Nonsense. The timing of the switch is obviously not ideal, though, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff notes, the new methods will be used to collect data for 2013, before the state marketplaces went up and the Medicaid expansion took effect. The suggestion of political interference from the White House, however, is a bombshell accusation that, despite Rothman’s insistence, is nowhere near being “proven.” Evan McMorris-Santoro of BuzzFeed talked to a census official who said that the White House had precisely zero involvement in the changes implemented, and that the bureau had been discussing the shift “way before the ACA was an idea.”
Regardless, it’s a big story on the right, and not just because conservatives love a good conspiracy. In the past week or so, conservatives have seen their reliable avenues for attacking the Affordable Care Act evaporate right in front of them.
The announcement that Kathleen Sebelius was stepping down as Health and Human Services secretary sparked a brief round of schadenfreude and some enthusiastic sand-kicking at Ezra Klein, but ultimately Sebelius’ departure means that Republicans and conservatives have lost one of their favorite ACA punching bags. Her successor-in-waiting, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, is an experienced administrator and the rarest of rare things: an Obama administration official who is actually on good terms with key Republicans in Congress. They’ll have a tough time painting her as controversial, and (assuming she’s confirmed) Burwell will assume control of Obamacare as it swings upward from its functional and political nadir.
Speaking of which, as conservatives are trying to suss out White House manipulation of the Census Bureau, Obamacare keeps on doing exactly what it was intended to do. This week the Congressional Budget Office found that Obamacare will cover more people for less money than initially estimated, and that insurance premiums likely will not spike next year, thus driving a stake through three core conservative attacks on the health law.
Health insurers, who just last month were floating anonymous warnings of massive premium increases, are now starting to warm to the state health exchanges. “At least two major national insurers intend to expand their offerings,” reported Politico on April 16, “although a handful of big players like Aetna, Humana and Cigna, are keeping their cards close for now. None of the big-name insurers have signaled plans to shrink their presence or bail altogether after the first rocky year. And a slew of smaller health plans are already making moves to join more states or get into the Obamacare business for the first time.”
And, in a development that should shock no one, Gallup found that in states that embraced Obamacare (i.e., set up their own health exchanges and expanded Medicaid) the rate of uninsured adults declined three times faster than in those states that rejected the Medicaid expansion or had the feds set up their insurance marketplace. All told, Gallup’s findings translate to about 10 million newly insured Americans.
Obamacare works in states that want it to work, and the tangible benefits of that success are putting pressure on Republicans who have to date been antagonistic toward the law. As Greg Sargent observed, Republican Senate candidates are now suddenly reticent when it comes to discussing the Medicaid expansion. Most notable among them is Tom Cotton in Arkansas, where Medicaid was expanded under a compromise measure in which federal dollars are used to purchase private plans. Cotton supports the full repeal of Obamacare, but won’t comment specifically on Arkansas’ “private option” for Medicaid, amusingly dismissing it as “a state-based issue.”
I certainly don’t want to leave the impression that the Affordable Care Act has been neutralized as a political issue or that it won’t face problems down the road – a looming increase in healthcare costs, for example. But for now Obamacare is shoring up some of its biggest political vulnerabilities, leaving conservatives to sputter about census conspiracies.
By: Simon Maloy, Salon, April 17, 2014
After the administration met a target of seven million new private insurance signups under the Affordable Care Act, and after pretty much every Obamacare “horror story” featured in a Koch-funded attack ad has turned out to be either completely false or extremely misleading at best, and after even some conservatives are telling their brethren to stop fooling themselves into thinking the ACA will inevitably implode, you might think that we could now start having a reasonable, factually grounded discussion about how we might improve the ACA going forward.
No such luck. In fact, there’s a new misleading “horror story” on its way: the worker whose hours are being cut back so their boss won’t have to comply with the ACA’s employer mandate. Watch out for it, because it’s coming.
Just as before, the decisions of private companies to attempt to screw over ordinary people are going to be blamed not on those companies, but on Obamacare. Before it was insurance companies, who tried to shunt their customers into overpriced policies when cheaper options were available on the exchanges. How many news stories did we see that featured someone’s anger at an insurer’s letter telling them they should sign up for a new, more costly plan, without even asking what other options the person had?
This time, the “horror story” will feature workers whose employers are trimming their hours back to avoid having to give them health insurance. Yesterday the House passed a bill, with every Republican voting in favor (along with 18 conservative Democrats) changing the law’s definition of full-time work from 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week. The purpose is to allow an employer to cut a full-time worker down to 39 hours and claim they’re “part time,” to avoid giving them health coverage (as it stands now, they’d have to cut them down to 29 hours).
President Obama would veto any such bill if it actually passed both houses. But still: this is the opening of a new front in the endless battle over the ACA.
So some context is in order. The ACA mandated that all companies with 50 or more workers offer health coverage. It’s vital to understand that this mandate actually affects only a small portion of workers, because most companies of that size already offer coverage. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 91 percent of firms with between 50 and 199 employees offer coverage today, before any mandate has taken effect. For companies with 200 or more employees, it’s virtually all of them (over 99 percent). Even most companies with fewer workers — 85 percent of those with between 25 and 49 employees — offer coverage.
So if, in the coming days, you see a story about an employer that’s trying to find ways not to cover their employees, the first thing to remember is that this an employer who is not giving their workers the benefits most people get. The second thing to remember is that the mandate has already been delayed. Companies with between 50 and 99 workers now have until 2016 to get their workers insured.
To be clear, there’s an argument for restructuring the employer mandate completely; there are other ways you could make sure that employees are covered. And as we learned in the Hobby Lobby case, the mandate isn’t truly a mandate; if a firm wants, it can decline to cover its workers, and pay a tax (which will cost a lot less than health coverage) to help defray the cost of them getting insurance through the exchanges.
I don’t even believe that people should be getting insurance through their employers at all; the fact that we do is an artifact of history that doesn’t have much practical rationale, particularly now (it started during World War II, when wage controls meant employers couldn’t give raises, so they began offering health benefits instead). But once coverage is required from all mid-size and large firms, it will be part of the cost of doing business for all of them — just as it is today for nearly all of them.
And by the way, this is true of lots of regulations: minimum wage laws, worker safety laws, laws against dumping toxic waste in the creek behind your factory, and a whole host of other laws that may increase a company’s expenses but get worked into the prices they charge for their goods and services.
As long as this is the system we have and there’s a mandate scheduled to take effect in 2016, we should be honest about what it means. If the claims about people getting dropped from individual coverage have taught us anything, it’s that whenever we see a new “Obamacare horror story,” it’s probably bogus. And this one will be no exception.
By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, April 4, 2014
I’m sure many of you saw a certain headline from The Hill today: “O-Care premiums to skyrocket.” At first I thought the source was The Drudge Report.
If you actually read the accompanying article by Elise Viebeck, the rather alarming assertion is mostly a collection of blind quotes from “health industry officials.” Yes, one former Cigna executive went on the record to say his “gut” tells him premiums could go up, which is of course very convincing. Otherwise the closest Viebeck gets to attribution is an “insurance official who hails from a populous swing state.”
In an updated version of the article, Viebeck does quote by name two experts–who deny the whole premise of her story.
And the “premiums to skyrocket” claim directly contradicts a variety of on-the-record assessments by health insurance executives–e.g., Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Wellpoint president Joe Swedish, and Cigna CEO David Cordani–that the Obamacare premium structure is working out relatively well. And the most reliable independent study, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, concluded that the much-feared “death spiral” of premiums that Viebeck seems to be predicting as a reality for much of the country is very unlikely to occur.
Particularly in its revised form, Viebeck’s piece has a number of “to be sure” qualifiers that undermine the headline. But it’s the headline that will get big coverage today–to be sure–maybe on Drudge Report itself. And it’s pretty clear which political constituency is driving the “story.”
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 20, 2014
“Republicans Can’t Win By Attacking Health Care In 2014″: We will Turn The Corner If Progressives Do Not Sit On The Sidelines
For me, the fact that Republicans keep using the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – as a political football is a tragedy. Sure, the law has problems, but it is already saving lives and improving the health of millions of Americans.
Thankfully, it seems that Republicans who are counting on attacking the health reform system to get them into the end zone will be stopped short of the goal line based on numbers coming out of a March special election for a Florida House seat
For me, the Affordable Care Act comes down to people’s lives and health. Consider the story of a young man I met who told me that this new avenue to becoming insured had saved his life.
He had some symptoms that made him worry about his health. But he, like many Americans without insurance, ignored them, as he couldn’t afford to see the doctor. After the Affordable Care Act became law, he got coverage through his parents’ health insurance plan, and on visiting a doctor, found out he had stage 4 — that’s advanced — cancer. Fortunately, he got to the doctor in time to save his life.
That young man is far from alone. As of the end of February, some 11 million Americans have health coverage under the new law. Repealing it, as Republicans continue to insist, would take away coverage from each and every one of them.
In the Florida election, Republican David Jolly said “I’m fighting to repeal Obamacare, right away.” His opponent, Democrat Alex Sink, countered, “We can’t go back to insurance companies doing whatever they want. Instead of repealing the health care law, we need to keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong.”
The key part of Sink’s message was to remind voters why people wanted health care reform in the first place. As one of Sink’s TV ads said, “Jolly would go back to letting insurance companies deny coverage.”
That’s an effective reminder of the huge problems Americans have had for decades, when insurance companies could deny care because of a pre-existing condition, charge people higher rates because they were sick, and even charge women higher rates than men. The ACA ended all that.
The candidates in Florida pushed especially hard for the votes of seniors, which is not surprising given both Florida’s high senior population and the fact that seniors vote more frequently than other age groups.
In its ads for Jolly, The Republican Congressional Campaign repeated the same misleading charge that Republicans used successfully in 2010 to scare seniors against the ACA, that it cut $716 billion from Medicare. But unlike 2010, when Democrats did not respond to attacks on the ACA, Sink pushed back.
She reminded seniors that the ACA actually provides important new Medicare benefits, including closing the infamous prescription drug “donut hole.” Sink’s ads accurately said, “His [Jolly's] plan would even force seniors to pay thousands more for prescription drugs.”
By Election Day, voters had a clear contrast between the positions of the candidates on the ACA. It was a close election, with Jolly winning by a small margin (48.4 percent to 46.5 percent) in a district with an 11-point Republican advantage, one that has been represented by the GOP for nearly 60 years.
But polling found that independent voters in the district supported the “keep and fix” position over the “repeal” position by a margin of 57 percent to 31 percent. Sink actually gained ground over Jolly during the election on the question of which candidate had a better position on the ACA.
I am very much looking forward to the time when Congress can start having real debates on how, as Sink said, “we can keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong” with the Affordable Care Act. However, it looks like it will take at least one more election, in 2014, to get us to that point.
We will turn the corner if progressives do not sit on the sidelines, but instead welcome the debate that Republicans insist on having about repealing the ACA.
That debate is an opportunity for people to be reminded in concrete terms that the new health care program, for all its shortcomings, is about providing every American with the peace of mind that comes with having health coverage.
By: Richard Kirsch, Senior Fellow at The Roosevelt Institute; Published in The National Memo, March 20, 2014
Was it really Obamacare that sunk Sink? I mean of course Alex Sink, the Democratic Florida congressional candidate who lost to Republican David Jolly on Tuesday. After the results were announced, Washington’s conventional wisdom congealed immediately: This was all about Obamacare, and it’s going to doom the Democrats come November.
Not so fast, says Geoff Garin, the pollster who did Sink’s polling in the race. Garin argues in a memo he released the day of the voting that “the issue ultimately provided more of a lift than a drag to her campaign.” He followed up by telling me yesterday: “She would have done worse if she’d neglected to hit back and engage the issue.” There’s a lesson in there for Democrats as they march toward November.
Garin put two key questions to the district’s voters. The first paraphrased the criticisms of Sink on Obamacare: Sink supports this law that will take away $716 billion from Medicare, and that caused 300,000 Floridians to lose their coverage and 2,500 patients at a district cancer center to have to change doctors. The second paraphrased criticisms of Jolly’s health-care position: He wants to totally repeal the law instead of fix it, a position that would let insurers again discriminate against the already ill and charge women more than they charge men for coverage. Repeal would also cut expanded prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients.
Respondents were asked to say whether this information gave them “very major doubts” about the candidates, “fairly major” doubts, “just some” doubts, or “no real” doubts. Results: While 43 percent now entertained very major doubts about Sink, 50 percent said they had very major doubts about Jolly. And 35 percent had no real doubts about Sink while only 26 percent had no real doubts about Jolly.
If that polling is accurate, then “more lift than drag” is accurate and fair. Guy Molyneux, a partner of Garin’s who oversaw some Obamacare polling for a couple of unions in January, echoed the point that there are at least three things Democrats can say about the law and the Republicans’ repeal zeal that poll really well. People broadly understand, Molyneux told me, that the law protects against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, and they approve of that strongly. They also know that insurers can no longer drop sick people on whim, and they like that. And they’re getting to know that the law prevents insurers from charging women more than men, and they like that, too; even men.
There’s one more thing that people don’t yet know very well, but the polling indicates that it could be a strong debating point, too: Under the law, insurers have to publicly justify any rate increases greater than 10 percent. This is called rate review, and it and the medical-loss ratio provisions of the law (explained here) are the two main planks that guard against willy-nilly rate hikes. A Heath and Human Services study from last September found that nearly 7 million citizens had saved more than $1 billion because of rate review, and moreover, that insurance companies were seeking increases of 10 percent far less frequently than before the law because of the added oversight.
Since everybody and his brother assumes that the Affordable Care Act is going to increase their rates, seems to me it’d be awfully useful for the Democrats to develop a sharp talking point or two explaining to people that the law actually helps prevent crazy premium increases.
This all makes the Obamacare story a lot more complicated than “disaster for Dems.” It just doesn’t have to be. Republicans know this, too. Why are they, or some of them, suddenly talking about replacing the law? Precisely to try to insulate themselves from the effective Democratic attack that they’d give carte blanche to insurance companies to go back to their old ways.
It’s worth dwelling on this for a paragraph—it’s important to understand. It was in the spring of 2010 that the GOP unveiled “repeal and replace.” They stuck with that through the election. Then, once they’d retaken the House, they dropped “replace” and went for “repeal” only. Now that a midterm election is coming again, though, they’re starting to put “replace” back in their rhetoric. But it’s as hollow this time as it was then. “Our challenge,” Molyneux told me, “is to show that there’s nothing behind the curtain there.”
Lord knows, the Democrats have more problems than health care staring them in the face for the fall. The turnout question is the biggest one, although they say they’re making efforts this time that have no precedent in a midterm election. And Obama’s bad approval numbers—worse still in many of the states with high-profile Senate contests—are a huge factor. “If Obama’s still at 41 percent in mid-October, we’re in a world of hurt,” Molyneux says. And finally, but far from least, the economy. An awful, awful number from this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: Fully 57 percent of those surveyed said they think we’re still in a recession.
So yeah, there’s a lot for Democrats to worry about. But in most of the contested states—not Louisiana, probably not Arkansas, but the others—they can make Obamacare a net wash if they can be clear about the implications of “repeal” and call out their GOP opponents on “replace.” And maybe as a bonus show they have some fight in them, and give those unmotivated young and Latino voters some good reasons to go to the polls.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 14, 2014