MediaTrackers Ohio attempted to distort local media coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by using badly flawed comparisons to claim the ACA's exchanges will lead to "sticker shock" for Ohio residents. MediaTrackers' analysis applies to a small slice of Ohio consumers and doesn't take into account important parts of the law.
Local media looking at MediaTrackers' effort should note several omissions in their reports:
- MediaTrackers doesn't explain that its analysis addressed only insurance plans on the individual market. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, however, 81 percent of Ohioans get health insurance through their employers or public programs like Medicare, which will be largely unchanged.
- MediaTrackers' numbers fail to factor in the ACA's subsidies for lower- and middle-income families. MediaTrackers mentions the subsidies, but dismisses them as a burden to taxpayers.
- The analysis compares plans that a consumer could buy today with plans that begin in 2014 and comply with ACA regulations. As Bill Custer, a health expert at Georgia State University, explained, comparing current plans to plans available in 2014 is unfair because it's like comparing "apples to earthworms," given the extra benefits and expanded coverage under the ACA.
As part of its analysis, MediaTrackers published several articles comparing the costs of insurance premiums for plans on Ohio's federally run ACA exchange to quotes for plans at eHealth.com, an online marketplace that allows people to shop for insurance. MediaTrackers looked at costs for 27-year-old women and men and 50-year-old women and men. In all the scenarios, MediaTrackers compared "Obamacare 'Gold' plans from [the Department of Health and Human Services] and existing policies with similar deductibles listed at eHealth."
As The New York Times explained, all health insurance plans starting on January 1 must include essential benefits from 10 health categories meaning consumers are not forced to purchase insurance through the exchanges in order to qualify under the ACA and can purchase private insurance if it is cheaper for them.
However, even using MediaTrackers' scenario, it is misleading to present today's plans and the new ACA-compliant plans as equal. Replicating MediaTrackers' scant methodology as closely as possible, the cheapest current plans do not have several of the health benefits required under the ACA. For example, picking the cheapest plan on eHealth.com in Columbus, Ohio, with a $1,500 deductible will allow a 27-year-old man to pay around $100 per month, but it will not include mental health, substance abuse, oral, or vision care -- all benefits required under the ACA.
MediaTrackers also claimed that while some consumers would be able to save on premiums due to ACA subsidies, taxpayers, "many of whom will also be paying higher costs for their own insurance as a result of the Democrats' latest socialized medicine program," will be paying for those subsidies.
The gripe Media Trackers has with subsidies -- which led it to repeat PolitiFact's 2010 "Lie Of The Year" -- is also overblown. It is true that some higher-income taxpayers will have to pay higher taxes, and a small percentage will have to pay higher premiums because of the ACA. But as MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the law's developers, explained, most of the cost does not come from taxpayers but from other savings:
MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped develop the law, says about half the costs are offset by projected savings in Medicare payments to insurers and hospitals. Another quarter is offset by added taxes on medical-device makers and drug companies.
"The other source of revenue is a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans," he says. "Those families with incomes above $250,000 a year will now have to pay more in Medicare payroll taxes."
Those provisions actually make the bill a net positive for the federal budget, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. By the CBO's accounting, Obamacare will produce a surplus. Gruber says the law will "actually lower the deficit by about $100 billion over the next decade and by $1 trillion in the decade after."