GOP's Obamacare mendacity: Paul Krugman explains why health reform is working -- despite the horror stories

You wouldn't know it listening to the right wing, but the Affordable Care Act is proving a real success

Published March 30, 2015 12:45PM (EDT)

Paul Krugman                                                                                                                                                                     (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
Paul Krugman (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

Five years after President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, the right-wing attacks on health reform are largely the same as they ever were. Obamacare, we're told, is a budget-busting job killer that's hampering our economy and wreaking havoc on the lives of hard-working Americans. But even if such hysterical howls remain as vociferous as ever, Paul Krugman notes in his New York Times column today that half a decade of experience hasn't looked kindly on the right's Obamacare horror stories.

Take jobs. Republicans from establishment tribune John Boehner to Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz have dubbed Obamacare the number one job killer in the country. Employers don't seem to have received the memo: 2014, the first full year Obamacare was in effect, saw the most new jobs created this century. The current unemployment rate, 5.5 percent, is already half a percentage point below the six percent level 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney promised by the end of his first term in January 2017 -- and we haven't had to rob millions of Americans of health insurance to get there.

Then there's cost. It's a running joke among conservatives to tar the health care law as the Unaffordable Care Act, but Krugman points out that Congressional Budget Office figures show the law's cost coming in at 20 percent below projections. Thanks to payment reforms and other savings measures included in the law, the ACA is reducing the federal budget deficit, not sending it higher. But don't tell Texas congressman Pete Sessions, who asserted the other day that Obamacare is costing $5 million per recipient. (Try $4,000.)

But what about the millions of Americans enduring hardship thanks to this large-scale social and economic reform? Well, Krugman observes, you'd be hard-pressed to produce any:

Finally, there’s the never-ending hunt for snarks and boojums — for ordinary, hard-working Americans who have suffered hardship thanks to health reform. As we’ve just seen, Obamacare opponents by and large don’t do math (and they’re sorry when they try). But all they really need are a few sob stories, tales of sympathetic individuals who have been impoverished by some aspect of the law.

Remarkably, however, they haven’t been able to find those stories. Early last year, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-backed group, ran a series of ads featuring alleged Obamacare victims — but not one of those tales of woe stood up to scrutiny. More recently, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State took to Facebook to ask for Obamacare horror stories. What she got instead was a torrent of testimonials from people whose lives have been improved, and in some cases saved, by health reform.

In reality, the only people hurt by health reform are Americans with very high incomes, who have seen their taxes go up, and a relatively small number of people who have seen their premiums rise because they’re young and healthy (so insurers previously saw them as good risks) and affluent (so they don’t qualify for subsidies). Neither group supplies suitable victims for attack ads.

It's almost as if Obamacare horror stories rest on a foundation of sheer mendacity. Alas, the right's smear campaign against the law has achieved much of its desired effect. Even if health care reform is still standing, polls show that Americans remain ignorant of its cost savings, and the discrepancy between the popularity of Obamacare's provisions and the less-than-stellar repute of "Obamacare" in the abstract underscores the GOP's success in maligning one of the landmark domestic achievements of the 21st century.

By Luke Brinker

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Affordable Care Act Health Care Reform Health Insurance Obamacare Paul Krugman Republicans