Right-wing media's last-ditch attempts to discredit the Affordable Care Act went off the rails as the end of open enrollment approached, from denying the law's basic premise of increasing access to health coverage through private companies to complaining that the law has become too successful.
March 31 marks the end of the ACA's open enrollment deadline -- the date by which individuals must enroll in a Qualified Health Plan in the ACA's exchanges for 2014. Enrollment numbers have reportedly surpassed the 6 million estimate, and early returns have suggested enrollment numbers may reach the administration's original estimate of 7 million sign-ups.
As the open enrollment period comes to a close, right-wing media haven't taken the continued enrollment surge well, desperately pushing debunked myths and trying to spin the positive numbers in last-ditch attempts to discredit the law.
Here are some of their best efforts:
Evidence Of Enrollment Failure: Democrats Aren't Celebrating Enough
On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade attempted to cast doubt on the White House's argument that enrollment figures had surged to a high level by claiming “if there was a victory to declare, if there was a bow to be taken,” Democrats would be celebrating more but, according to Kilmeade, “right now you don't have anybody doing that”:
Recent evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that the law is working. According to the Los Angeles Times, the ACA “already has spurred the largest expansion in health coverage in America in half a century, national surveys and enrollment data show.” The individual market exchanges alone are projected to reach 6.9 to seven million enrollees by the end of the day.
And enrollment has continued to surge. According to the Washington Post, Healthcare.gov had 8.7 million hits and the federal call center reportedly received 2.5 million calls in the past week alone. The White House posted pictures of what interest looks like at some local enrollment centers:
Las Vegas, Nevada
El Paso, Texas
On the same edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steve Doocy claimed that even after the enrollment surge, “they're still behind the number of people who had health care before Obamacare went into effect”:
DOOCY: [I]f only 6 million have signed up and yet 7 million probably got canceled, they're still behind the number of people who had health care before Obamacare went into effect.
HASSELBECK: Absolutely, the net result is quite negative for some out there.
But the suggestion that the ACA may have increased the number of uninsured Americans has been debunked by multiple fact checks. On March 17, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler weighed in on a similar claim from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) that there has been “a net loss of people with health insurance,” writing that Boehner's claim “flies in the face of the facts” and issuing it “four pinocchios” -- the rating it issues for "whoppers":
A large percentage of the people whose old plans were canceled were automatically moved to new plans offered by the same insurance companies. These people may not be happy with their new coverage -- and may have appeared in an ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity -- but they got a plan without going through HealthCare.gov. (Here's an example of such a letter, courtesy of our colleagues at PolitiFact.)
Precise figures are not available, as the insurance market is private and fragmented, but insurance company officials say a majority of people could move to new plans they were offered.
In other words, almost nobody in that pool of 6 million does not have insurance. If they didn't, they surely would be featured in an anti-Obamacare ad. But those ads feature people who don't like their new plans, rather than being left high and dry with no coverage.
Politifact similarly rated the “net loss” claim “false,” noting that such analysis omitted several “important factors,” including Medicaid enrollments, young adults who have been able to remain on their parents' plans, and notably, that most people who received cancellation “were able to find new plans, meaning Boehner's 6 million uninsured people basically vanishes.”
Breitbart highlighted a Philadelphia Inquirer post by TRG Healthcare managing partner Howard J. Peterson who claimed “Obamacare hasn't put a dent in number of uninsured.” Peterson largely relied on a McKinsey & Co. survey that “concluded that only 14 percent, or about 500,000 individuals, were 'actual uninsured who have actually gained health coverage'” through the ACA exchanges. Peterson assumed that this percentage of previously uninsured individuals seeking coverage would stay constant through the rest of the open enrollment period and concluded that by the time the exchanges close, “only 900,000 previously uninsured individuals will have acquired insurance as a result of the exchanges.”
Peterson's analysis ignores the results of the recent enrollment surge. In reality, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage through the ACA. From the Los Angeles Times review of "state and federal enrollment reports, surveys and interviews with insurance executives and government officials nationwide:
President Obama's healthcare law, despite a rocky rollout and determined opposition from critics, already has spurred the largest expansion in health coverage in America in half a century, national surveys and enrollment data show.
As the law's initial enrollment period closes, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage. Some have done so through marketplaces created by the law, some through other private insurance and others through Medicaid, which has expanded under the law in about half the states.
The tally draws from a review of state and federal enrollment reports, surveys and interviews with insurance executives and government officials nationwide.
Fox & Friends co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggested that politicians like Senator Angus King (I-MN) have been “backing away” from support of the law. As evidence for his claim, Kilmeade hyped a statement from King in which the senator explained that "[t]here is no such thing as Obamacare. You can't sign up for Obamacare. You sign up for an Anthem policy or an Aetna policy or a Wellpoint policy. It's private insurance," which Hasselbeck framed as “an independent backing so far away that he can't even see it, that it doesn't exist, perhaps.”
King's statement is not evidence that he's “backing away” from the ACA, it's an accurate portrayal of how the law works. While the term “Obamacare” refers to the law in general, the health care exchanges, which are one of the law's most prominent coverage provisions, allows consumers to purchase health insurance that will be managed and operated by private health insurers like the ones King listed.The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog pointed out that the ACA “builds on the existing private insurance” much like Massachusetts health insurance reform of 2006. Politfact called the claim that the ACA is a “government takeover of health care” the 2010 “Lie of the Year,” explaining that the law “relies largely on the free market.”
On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade and National Center For Policy Analysis president John Goodman pushed the myth that Obamacare is a “race to the bottom,” arguing that “insurance companies face a very perverse incentive” to narrow networks in order to get the prices down.
In reality, narrow networks are able to provide quality health care coverage while still keeping costs low. According to a September 22 New York Times article, narrow networks make health insurance affordable to the uninsured by reducing costs due to streamlined provider networks. According to a survey conducted and released by BDC Advisors, a strategy consulting firm, new narrow insurance networks are focused on providing quality care and cost savings. The survey “of national and regional Health Plans” revealed “there is a resurgence of narrow, tailored, tiered and high performance networks products in the market with premiums substantially below traditional open access offerings and with a new focus on quality.”
Narrow networks are not new or unique to Obamacare. According to a 2009 Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) study, many Americans who receive coverage through employer-sponsored insurance are already enrolled in a type of narrow network.
In the final days leading to the end of the health care law's open enrollment period, Fox News has consistently used enrollment numbers to stoke fears of skyrocketing prices and a health care system collapse.
On the March 30 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace misleadingly claimed that the Obama administration needed 38 percent of insurance enrollees under the Affordable Care Act to be “young and healthy,” but because only about 25 percent of enrollees were currently in this demographic, there was a “big hole” in the number of people insured prior to the March 31 deadline for enrollment.
On the first edition of Sunday Morning Futures, senior correspondent Eric Shawn reported that young people aged 18-34 only made up 25 percent of enrollees, falling short of the 40 percent “needed to keep Obamacare afloat.”
But Obamacare already has enough “young and healthy” enrollees to keep costs down and to avoid a 'death spiral.' An issue brief from the Department of Health and Human Services showed that young adults accounted for “27 percent of the Marketplace plan selections,” under the Affordable Care Act so far and that this number “has remained strong,” and “is consistent with expectations.”
Thirty-eight to 40 percent of young and healthy enrollees was an administration goal, but not required to keep insurance costs low. A December 17 Kaiser Permanente study found that “the financial consequences of lower enrollment among young adults are not as great as conventional wisdom might suggest.” Kaiser's study showed the effect of having 25 percent of young adults in the overall market would “still be expected to earn profits” and that the effect on premiums “would be well below the level that would trigger a 'death spiral.'” In a December 27 CBS News article, Stephanie Condon reported on the study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, noting “even if young adults only made up 25 percent of the market rather than 40 percent, overall costs in individual market plans would only be about 2.4 percent higher than premium revenues.”