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.