< Fact Checking Affordable Care Act Numbers

Transcript

Friday, April 04, 2014

 

BOB GARFIELD:  This week marks the deadline for signing up for the inaugural year of Obamacare. Though website crashes bedevilled the rollout, and then again as the deadline neared, the White House says it has hit its projected number, 7 million new enrollees. This yielded high-fives on MSNBC.
 [CLIP]:
CORRESPONDENT:  7.1 million people have signed up for the Affordable Care Act and 15 million people have been affected by it.
  [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD:  But the truth of the claim depends on how you define “7 million” and how you define “new” and whether new enrollment is actually even the measure of the Affordable Care Act’s success.
Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog for the Washington Post, wrote this week that a lot of the numbers being thrown around by politicians and the media are based on fuzzy math. Glenn, welcome to On the Media.
GLENN KESSLER:  Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD:  Let’s begin with the President’s claim about the 7 million plus signups.
  [CLIP]:
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  And despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces.
  [APPLAUSE/CHEERS] [END CLIP]
GLENN KESSLER:  They’ve selected a plan but it doesn’t mean that people have actually paid for it. And the general consensus is that at the moment about 85 percent of the people who are saying they want to sign up for Healthcare.gov end up making the first month’s premium.
BOB GARFIELD:  Now, a lot of the conversation in the multi-year buildup to the debut of the Affordable Care Act was the question of uninsured Americans. And so, new enrollees became a currency. But what is really meant by “new”?
GLENN KESSLER:  That’s an excellent question, and it's not easily answered. At the moment, it looks like about two-thirds of the people who signed up for Healthcare.gov are people who previously had insurance. At the same time, there are lots of people, 4 million, 5 million, who are now getting insurance for the first time through Medicaid, which is another part of the Affordable Care Act, a massive expansion of the Medicaid program. What that adds up we’re not going to be able to find out for a few months.
BOB GARFIELD:  And then there is a large category of young Americans who have been insured through their parents’ policies but who would have lost their coverage, having attained the age of, say, 18 or 21, now can stay on their parents’ policies ‘til 26. They’re not new enrollees, but they would otherwise have become uninsured. How big a cohort is that?
GLENN KESSLER:  Well, the administration cites a figure of about 3 million, but it hasn't been updated by the administration for two years. And I’m always suspicious when, you know, places like the Obama administration don't update their statistics.
  [BOB CHUCKLES]
It probably means things have gone downhill.
I've done my own looking at the data sets that they relied on, and the numbers have dropped. It really works out to be about 2 million. And, in fact, there’s a new analysis that just came out this week that suggests it's actually less than a million.
BOB GARFIELD:  Some politicians, for political advantage, will not only mix apples and oranges, they’ll shake up the entire fruit basket. I'm thinking [LAUGHS] of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who earlier this week said this.
  [CLIP]:
HARRY REID:  Today, over 10 million newly-insured Americans benefiting from the healthcare law are now in effect.
  [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD:  You did a little detective work and were able to reconstruct how he came to this number.
GLENN KESSLER:  One big part of that number includes that 3 million supposed young adults. If you don't trust that number, you got real problems with the rest of his number. There was a big number for Medicaid, nearly 5 million, that was part of that figure but again, the data on that is really fuzzy. And the 5- million-estimate that Reid was relying on came from a survey that someone then extrapolated and added numbers to. It's not a number you can really trust.
And finally, he was taking the idea that one-third of the 7 million enrollees on the Healthcare.gov are newly insured but, again, we don't really know.
BOB GARFIELD:  Here is House Speaker John Boehner two weeks ago talking about why Obamacare is a travesty that will destroy our society.
  [CLIP]
JOHN BOEHNER:  When you look at the 6 million Americans who’ve lost their policies and some, they – they claim, 4.2 million people who signed up, that would indicate to me a net loss of people with health – health insurance. And I actually do believe that to be the case.
  [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD:  So he does the arithmetic and finds out that the Affordable Care Act has actually left more Americans without coverage. Is there any truth to that?
GLENN KESSLER:  No. It’s actually pretty silly what the Speaker did. He was taking a number, the number of people whose plans were canceled as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, as you might remember, deems some plans to be substandard; it didn't meet the requirements under the law. So there was a figure, maybe about 5 million, 6 million people, who received letters from their insurance companies saying, your plan is not in compliance. But in many cases those people just rolled over into a new plan that the insurance company offered, which was compliant with the law.
What Boehner is doing, he’s assuming that every one of those people lost their insurance and, therefore, are out there wandering the country without any insurance.
BOB GARFIELD:  Now Glenn, I’ve been reading your fact checking work for years now, and I noticed that you are hesitant to use the “L word.” You try to be a little bit more clinical about what you do. But, in the end, some people are just bigger liars than others. As you look at the statements coming from the Democrats and the Republicans, where are the biggest liars?
GLENN KESSLER:  In terms of talking about the Obamacare numbers, I think I've given an equal number of four Pinocchio ratings to both Democrats and Republicans. You know, the Democrats are very eager to rush out and add up the best possible numbers that they can. The Republicans are quite happy to downgrade and subtract as much as they can. I don't think either side has covered themselves with much glory.
  [CYMBAL CRASH]
BOB GARFIELD:  [LAUGHS] How can you tell when a politician is lying?
GLENN KESSLER:  When they’re talking about Obamacare.
  [CYMBAL CRASH]
BOB GARFIELD:  [LAUGHS] Glenn, thank you very, very much.
GLENN KESSLER:  You’re welcome.
BOB GARFIELD:  This week marks the deadline for signing up for the inaugural year of Obamacare. Though website crashes bedevilled the rollout, and then again as the deadline neared, the White House says it has hit its projected number, 7 million new enrollees. This yielded high-fives on MSNBC.
 [CLIP]:
CORRESPONDENT:  7.1 million people have signed up for the Affordable Care Act and 15 million people have been affected by it.
  [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD:  But the truth of the claim depends on how you define “7 million” and how you define “new” and whether new enrollment is actually even the measure of the Affordable Care Act’s success.
Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog for the Washington Post, wrote this week that a lot of the numbers being thrown around by politicians and the media are based on fuzzy math. Glenn, welcome to On the Media.
GLENN KESSLER:  Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD:  Let’s begin with the President’s claim about the 7 million plus signups.
  [CLIP]:
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  And despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces.
  [APPLAUSE/CHEERS] [END CLIP]
GLENN KESSLER:  They’ve selected a plan but it doesn’t mean that people have actually paid for it. And the general consensus is that at the moment about 85 percent of the people who are saying they want to sign up for Healthcare.gov end up making the first month’s premium.
BOB GARFIELD:  Now, a lot of the conversation in the multi-year buildup to the debut of the Affordable Care Act was the question of uninsured Americans. And so, new enrollees became a currency. But what is really meant by “new”?
GLENN KESSLER:  That’s an excellent question, and it's not easily answered. At the moment, it looks like about two-thirds of the people who signed up for Healthcare.gov are people who previously had insurance. At the same time, there are lots of people, 4 million, 5 million, who are now getting insurance for the first time through Medicaid, which is another part of the Affordable Care Act, a massive expansion of the Medicaid program. What that adds up we’re not going to be able to find out for a few months.
BOB GARFIELD:  And then there is a large category of young Americans who have been insured through their parents’ policies but who would have lost their coverage, having attained the age of, say, 18 or 21, now can stay on their parents’ policies ‘til 26. They’re not new enrollees, but they would otherwise have become uninsured. How big a cohort is that?
GLENN KESSLER:  Well, the administration cites a figure of about 3 million, but it hasn't been updated by the administration for two years. And I’m always suspicious when, you know, places like the Obama administration don't update their statistics.
  [BOB CHUCKLES]
It probably means things have gone downhill.
I've done my own looking at the data sets that they relied on, and the numbers have dropped. It really works out to be about 2 million. And, in fact, there’s a new analysis that just came out this week that suggests it's actually less than a million.
BOB GARFIELD:  Some politicians, for political advantage, will not only mix apples and oranges, they’ll shake up the entire fruit basket. I'm thinking [LAUGHS] of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who earlier this week said this.
  [CLIP]:
HARRY REID:  Today, over 10 million newly-insured Americans benefiting from the healthcare law are now in effect.
  [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD:  You did a little detective work and were able to reconstruct how he came to this number.
GLENN KESSLER:  One big part of that number includes that 3 million supposed young adults. If you don't trust that number, you got real problems with the rest of his number. There was a big number for Medicaid, nearly 5 million, that was part of that figure but again, the data on that is really fuzzy. And the 5- million-estimate that Reid was relying on came from a survey that someone then extrapolated and added numbers to. It's not a number you can really trust.
And finally, he was taking the idea that one-third of the 7 million enrollees on the Healthcare.gov are newly insured but, again, we don't really know.
BOB GARFIELD:  Here is House Speaker John Boehner two weeks ago talking about why Obamacare is a travesty that will destroy our society.
  [CLIP]
JOHN BOEHNER:  When you look at the 6 million Americans who’ve lost their policies and some, they – they claim, 4.2 million people who signed up, that would indicate to me a net loss of people with health – health insurance. And I actually do believe that to be the case.
  [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD:  So he does the arithmetic and finds out that the Affordable Care Act has actually left more Americans without coverage. Is there any truth to that?
GLENN KESSLER:  No. It’s actually pretty silly what the Speaker did. He was taking a number, the number of people whose plans were canceled as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, as you might remember, deems some plans to be substandard; it didn't meet the requirements under the law. So there was a figure, maybe about 5 million, 6 million people, who received letters from their insurance companies saying, your plan is not in compliance. But in many cases those people just rolled over into a new plan that the insurance company offered, which was compliant with the law.
What Boehner is doing, he’s assuming that every one of those people lost their insurance and, therefore, are out there wandering the country without any insurance.
BOB GARFIELD:  Now Glenn, I’ve been reading your fact checking work for years now, and I noticed that you are hesitant to use the “L word.” You try to be a little bit more clinical about what you do. But, in the end, some people are just bigger liars than others. As you look at the statements coming from the Democrats and the Republicans, where are the biggest liars?
GLENN KESSLER:  In terms of talking about the Obamacare numbers, I think I've given an equal number of four Pinocchio ratings to both Democrats and Republicans. You know, the Democrats are very eager to rush out and add up the best possible numbers that they can. The Republicans are quite happy to downgrade and subtract as much as they can. I don't think either side has covered themselves with much glory.
  [CYMBAL CRASH]
BOB GARFIELD:  [LAUGHS] How can you tell when a politician is lying?
GLENN KESSLER:  When they’re talking about Obamacare.
  [CYMBAL CRASH]
BOB GARFIELD:  [LAUGHS] Glenn, thank you very, very much.
GLENN KESSLER:  You’re welcome.

 

Guests:

Glenn Kessler

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield