“Myth: Obamacare isn’t working.”
—The Democratic National Committee, December 2013 on its “Your Republican Uncle” website
An ambiguous claim misleads, as ambiguous claims often do.
Having completed fact checks dealing with the Democratic National Committee’s claims about the economy, we move on to the DNC’s set of claims about health care at its “Answering Your Republican Uncle” website.
The DNC has added two new claims to its health care section since we started our series. The new additions occur as the first and second items in this section of their website. We’ll address the new ones first and add them to the master list when we’ve completed the section.
The DNC says your Republican uncle’s claim that Obamacare isn’t working is a myth, offering this rationale:
Since the enrollment period began, nearly 1.2 million Americans have signed up for coverage through the health care exchanges and Medicaid, and millions more are benefitting by staying on their parents’ health insurance plans, accessing preventive services without a copay, and feeling secure that insurance companies can no longer discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.
The DNC offers an article by the Washington Post’s Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff in support.
Just about 1.2 million people have gained health coverage through Obamacare, according to new federal data released Wednesday morning.
Approximately 365,000 of those people have purchased private insurance and 803,000 have been determined to be eligible for the public Medicaid program. These numbers count data from both October and November, and show an especially quick growth in HealthCare.gov enrollment.
Kliff goes on to explain that the White House had projected 1.2 million sign-ups for private insurance only, excluding Medicaid.
The DNC added this item sometime near mid-December, so the number of sign-ups for both private insurance through an exchange and Medicaid will have increased.
Analyzing the Rhetoric
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare” or the ACA, has many features. It expands Medicaid in states permitting the expansion. It allows dependent children to stay on their parents’ insurance up through age 26. It raises some taxes, and it doles out some subsidies. That scratches the surface.
Obamacare also has an overarching structure: Much of the cost of the changes will be paid for, by design, by insurance customers who are generally younger and healthier.
There are at least two ways we can gauge whether Obamacare is working. We can look at selected parts of it, or we can look at its overall structure.
The Democratic National Committee, by appearances, takes the first option.
But what if your Republican uncle was making a point about the structure of Obamacare? Or a different selected part of Obamacare, such as the delayed employer mandate or the trouble-plagued insurance exchanges? In either type of case, the DNC’s response does not address the criticism.
If we try to give the DNC the benefit of the doubt by assuming that the Republican uncle criticizes exactly the point the DNC answers, then the DNC is putting a weak argument in your Republican uncle’s mouth. It’s a straw man fallacy.
Is Obamacare working?
A number of Obamacare’s features have had their intended effect, such as the law’s provision making dependent children eligible for insurance under their parents’ policies. But just as we don’t judge a car based on a working radio and a luxurious interior, we don’t judge the success of a law based on a few parts of a complex whole. Democrats passed the ACA claiming it would cut the cost of insurance for all while greatly reducing the number of uninsured persons and bending the overall cost curve for US medical expenses.
All of those goals remain in doubt, though it’s probably too early to say whether the law will work or not. Insurance costs have gone up for many, especially healthy young males. Medicaid sign-ups make up most of those gaining insurance, and it isn’t yet clear that a large decrease in the number of uninsured will result. Medical expenses are down nationally, but experts put that down mostly to the weak economy. We don’t know yet whether things like higher co-pays and new efficiencies will lower costs.
Have 1.2 million gained insurance through Obamacare?
The number of sign-ups has increased since mid-December, so it’s likely that more than 1.2 million have gained insurance through Obamacare by now. But it’s worth mentioning that Sean Trende and Glenn Kessler have shown that many newly added Medicaid patients were eligible regardless of Obamacare. We’re inclined to offer partial credit to Obamacare for publicizing Medicaid to the point of encouraging people to sign up for it. But Sarah Kliff’s number, as of the time it was published, was inflated.
Sean Trende estimates that about 400,000 persons made eligible for Medicaid by Obamacare have signed up. That’s out of 4 million claimed by the administration. If the same percentage held when Kliff was reporting in December, then Obamacare was directly responsible for about 80,000 gaining insurance under Medicaid, not the 803,000 Kliff mentions.
“Myth: Obamacare isn’t working.”
With moderately charitable interpretation we can take the DNC to say that some of Obamacare is working. That’s true. Some of the law is working. But as a refutation of the likely criticisms of a Republican uncle, that interpretation leads to a fallacy of ambiguity. The DNC’s claim downplays real problems with Obamacare along with some early indications that the structure of the health care reform law may prove unworkable.
“The Democrat’s Guide to Talking Politics with Your Republican Uncle.” Your Republican Uncle. Democratic National Committee, Dec. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Kliff, Sarah. “Since October, 1.2 Million Have Gained Obamacare Coverage.” Washington Post Wonkblog. The Washington Post, 11 Dec. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2014
“Remarks by the President and Vice President at Signing of the Health Insurance Reform Bill.” The White House. The White House, 23 Mar. 2010. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Roy, Avik. “White House To Delay Obamacare’s Employer Mandate Until 2015; Far-Reaching Implications For The Private Health Insurance Market.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 02 July 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
“WellPoint CEO Says Obamacare Public Exchange Problems Persist.” Yahoo Finance. Reuters Limited, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Trende, Sean. “4 Million Medicaid Enrollees Under Obamacare? Doubtful.” RealClearPolitics. RealClearPolitics, 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Trende, Sean. “A Second Look at Medicaid Enrollment Numbers.” RealClearPolitics. RealClearPolitics, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
Kessler, Glenn. “Warning: Ignore Claims That 3.9 Million People Signed up for Medicaid Because of Obamacare.” The Washington Post Fact Checker. The Washington Post, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
“Assessing the Effects of the Economy on the Recent Slowdown in Health Spending.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Family Foundation, 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.