Good News for Obamacare Is Bad News for Conservative Pundits

The warnings that insurance premiums will skyrocket next year look increasingly hyperbolic.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
April 18, 2014, 7:46 a.m.

Con­ser­vat­ives were sure at every turn that Obama­care would fail, but as the num­bers roll in, those con­vic­tions are look­ing in­creas­ingly ideo­lo­gic­al.

First they said nobody would en­roll. Then they said first-year premi­ums would be through the roof. And later, they warned of a “death spir­al,” wherein premi­ums would go up un­con­trol­lably. My col­league Sam Baker has writ­ten an ex­cel­lent ana­lys­is of the situ­ation, the up­shot of which is that Obama­care is on a win­ning streak.

The next great fron­ti­er of con­ser­vat­ive hy­per­bole con­cerns premi­ums for 2015, with crit­ics warn­ing that costs will double or even triple next year.

As of this week, we have good evid­ence to the con­trary. Health in­sur­ance premi­um rates are ex­pec­ted go up just 7 per­cent — a rate of in­crease much lower than what crit­ics were pre­dict­ing. And the non­par­tis­an Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice is pre­dict­ing that premi­um hikes will be re­l­at­ively mod­est.

“The double-rate in­creases we’ve been hear­ing are prob­ably ex­ag­ger­ated,” Dave Axene, a fel­low with the So­ci­ety of Ac­tu­ar­ies, told USA Today. “That’s not what we’re see­ing from the ac­tu­ar­ial or­gan­iz­a­tions — I guess we’re be­ing a little bit more op­tim­ist­ic.”

“A little bit more op­tim­ist­ic” is something of an un­der­state­ment. For weeks, pun­dits have been spout­ing apo­ca­lyptic no­tions about the costs of in­sur­ance premi­ums, warn­ing Amer­ic­ans that “the worst is yet to come.”

Writ­ing in The Wash­ing­ton Post last month, Mi­chael Ger­son spec­u­lated that premi­um in­creases could hit triple di­gits. “Over the past sev­er­al years, in­creases in in­sur­ance premi­ums have av­er­aged nearly 6 per­cent,” he wrote. “Be­cause of the rocky launch, age dis­tri­bu­tion, and delayed pro­vi­sions of Obama­care ex­changes, in­sur­ance com­pany of­fi­cials ex­pect far lar­ger premi­um in­creases this spring — in the double di­gits, if not the triple di­gits, in many places.”

He goes on to rep­rim­and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for fail­ing to pre­pare Amer­ic­ans for these drastic­ally in­creased premi­ums, call­ing it “an­oth­er round of Obama­care over­prom­ising.” In fact, it’s Ger­son who’s blown the ex­pect­a­tions game — not that he’s alone in that.

Just last week, Scott Got­tlieb, a res­id­ent fel­low at the Amer­ic­an En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, wrote in For­bes that “health in­sur­ance premi­ums are show­ing the sharpest in­creases per­haps ever” and that “rate hikes have ac­cel­er­ated as Obama­care’s reg­u­la­tions have star­ted to get im­ple­men­ted.”

In an ap­pear­ance on Meet the Press, John Sununu cited a re­port from Well­Point that pre­dicted “double-di­git-plus” in­creases. The re­port startled ana­lysts at the time, with some say­ing they sus­pec­ted the com­pany was “hedging bets” in case of a change in rules. But that nu­ance didn’t make it in­to Sununu’s talk­ing points.

And con­ser­vat­ive blog­ger Ed Mor­ris­sey cited a sen­sa­tion­al head­line to make his case. “Re­mem­ber how Barack Obama and Demo­crats prom­ised to ‘bend the cost curve down­ward’ with Obama­Care?” he wrote on Hot Air. “Well, they got most of that prom­ise cor­rect. Obama­care has bent the cost curve all right, but sharply up­ward — and in 2015, ex­pect them to not just bend but ab­so­lutely ‘skyrock­et.’ “

That re­port was widely ban­died about in the con­ser­vat­ive blo­go­sphere. “In polit­ics, there’s only so much mas­sa­ging of the truth and flat-out ly­ing that one can do be­fore the head­lines catch up with the de­ceit,” wrote Na­tion­al Re­view‘s Charles Cooke. “Here’s one that ought to scare the hell out of any Demo­crats who are still hop­ing that The Charge of the Light Bri­gade can be an ef­fect­ive elect­or­al strategy for them: ‘O-Care premi­ums to skyrock­et.’ ” In this case, of course, it was de­ceit that caught up with the head­lines.

The ori­gin of these crit­ics’ ar­gu­ment can be traced to a thinly sourced art­icle in The Hill, which quoted a former Cigna ex­ec­ut­ive say­ing things like, “My gut tells me that, for some people, these in­creases will be sig­ni­fic­ant.” The re­ports about in­sur­ance rates pos­sibly trip­ling, which were widely re­peated, ap­pear to come from a single an­onym­ous in­sur­ance ex­ec­ut­ive.

The irony is that, had con­ser­vat­ives been a little less quick to trum­pet every nug­get of po­ten­tially bad news, the ad­min­is­tra­tion would be rid­ing a little less high right now — and their own pre­dic­tions would look a little less silly.

Nobody knows for sure what will hap­pen next year. And there are still plenty of Obama­care sup­port­ers who en­vi­sion premi­um in­creases in the double di­gits. But pun­dits like Ger­son and even some straight news out­lets have been far too con­fid­ent that everything will be ter­rible.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
22 hours ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×