Let’s run a quick thought experiment. The Department of Health and Human Services releases a report claiming that 99.9 percent of all people who signed up for private health plans through Obamacare had paid their monthly premiums. Let’s say this report provided a state-by-state breakdown of the data that conspicuously omitted a number of states. Let’s also say that some of the largest health insurers participating in Obamacare had already provided estimates that were far lower than 99.9 percent. The White House and Democrats across the country wave the report around as proof positive that not only is Obamacare working, it’s succeeding far beyond their most optimistic projections.
What would happen in this scenario? The conservative press would loudly, and rightly, accuse the Obama administration of cooking the books on Obamacare. Darrell Issa would schedule hearings and subpoena documents. Ted Cruz would call on Kathleen Sebelius to resign again. Louie Gohmert would call for impeachment, and Lindsay Graham would ask about the Benghazi talking points. Any media outlet that mouthed the administration’s line would see its credibility take a huge hit.
This is the situation we find ourselves in now, only the parties and the numbers are flipped. The House GOP this week released a laughably incomplete report claiming that Obamacare premium payments came in at just 67 percent. The report omitted states that aren’t part of the federal marketplace (and even a couple that are), relied upon incomplete data, and put out an estimate that was wildly at variance with those of big health insurers, which put payment rates as high as 90 percent. The report was, in the judgment of ACA sign-up tallyman Charles Gaba, a “big pile of crap.”
The crappiness of said pile was, for conservatives in the media, a secondary consideration (if it was ever a consideration at all). The right jumped on this comically inept analysis from House Republicans without so much as a moment’s hesitation. Yesterday I wrote about how conservatives are finding themselves suddenly short of ways to attack the ACA, so they’re seizing on anything they can to try and sustain the narrative that Obamacare is failing. This is a prime example of precisely that.
“The enrollment totals were bogus and worse than expected,” wrote Townhall.com’s Guy Benson. “The widely touted figure of eight million enrollments that Barack ‘Mission Accomplished’ Obama’s been pushing lately is flatly bogus,” was the take at Hot Air. The Weekly Standard, the Daily Caller, National Review – everyone got in on the pigpile.
On one level, you can understand their eagerness, given that the administration has yet to release data on premium payments for Obamacare enrollees, and has instead offered estimates from insurance companies as to how many people paid. But the House GOP’s report is not a good faith attempt to fill that data void. TPM obtained the survey that the Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee sent to insurers to collect the payment data, and according to sources they talked to it “appears designed to yield an unfavorable result.”
The whole point of the exercise seems to have been to get a low number out there for opponents of the law to latch onto. “Once information like this is out there,” observed Jonathan Cohn, “it becomes a permanent part of the conversation. Republicans and their supporters will keep citing it, over and over again. Some will even say it’s proof that Obama is ‘cooking the books’—even if it turns out that it's Republicans, not the White House, playing games with the numbers.”
While the right keeps fumbling about with bad news of their own concoction, potentially good news about the ACA keeps trickling out. States like Florida and Michigan, which in 2014 will see competitive gubernatorial and Senate elections, respectively, saw huge surges towards the end of the open enrollment period. Over 270,000 Michigan residents signed up for coverage, beating early projections by a hefty 70 percent. The final push in Florida saw enrollment increase 123 percent between February and April, and the state’s final tally came in just under 1 million.
The nationwide enrollment tally, according to newly released HHS data, sits at just over 8 million people.
Again, the payment data haven’t been released yet so these can only be considered preliminary totals, but at the very least they represent a huge comeback for the ACA from the debacles of late 2013. Republicans and conservatives, however, are still desperately trying to bring back the doom-and-gloom from Obamacare’s doldrums, even as the political and policy terrain shifts beneath their feet.