Democrats Pre-But Tomorrow’s Republican Obamacare Talking Point, Today

They’re hoping to get out ahead of a new government report that suggests that premiums will go up for most small businesses.

House Democratic leaders (L-R) House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) talk to reporters after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Feb. 21, 2014, 2:26 p.m.

After get­ting hammered on a series of gov­ern­ment re­ports that they felt Re­pub­lic­ans un­fairly char­ac­ter­ized, Demo­crats are tak­ing the un­usu­al step of re­spond­ing to an­oth­er po­ten­tially dam­aging re­port be­fore the GOP at­tacks even start.

The re­port, re­leased late Fri­day by the Ac­tu­ary of the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices, looks at the im­pact two pro­vi­sions of the Af­ford­able Care Act will have on health in­sur­ance premi­ums for small busi­nesses. Re­pub­lic­ans re­ques­ted the re­port in 2011 when they slipped it in­to an ap­pro­pri­ations bill.

Demo­crats ex­pect the GOP to seize on a por­tion of the re­port that es­tim­ates that premi­ums will go up for most small firms.

“[W]e are es­tim­at­ing that 65 per­cent of the small firms are ex­pec­ted to ex­per­i­ence in­creases in their premi­um rates while the re­main­ing 35 per­cent are an­ti­cip­ated to have rate re­duc­tions,” the CMS re­port reads. “This res­ults in roughly 11 mil­lion in­di­vidu­als whose premi­ums are es­tim­ated to be high­er as a res­ult of the ACA and about 6 mil­lion in­di­vidu­als who are es­tim­ated to have lower premi­ums.”

Those are very scary words for Demo­crats, and something you could ex­pect to see in a Re­pub­lic­an at­tack ad.

But that pas­sage doesn’t tell the whole pic­ture, says Drew Ham­mill, a spokes­man for House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi. “This re­port is the latest in­stance of House Re­pub­lic­ans at­tempt­ing to peddle half-truths and in­com­plete data to jus­ti­fy their blind ob­ses­sion with re­peal­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act,” Ham­mill said in a state­ment. “The Ac­tu­ary notes in the re­port that the find­ings are in­com­plete, but Re­pub­lic­ans are only in­ter­ested in what they can use to mis­lead and de­ceive Amer­ic­ans about the ACA and its ef­fect on what small busi­nesses will pay for health cov­er­age.”

The staff of Rep. Henry Wax­man, the rank­ing mem­ber of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, re­spon­ded to the re­port Fri­day in de­tail, not­ing that nowhere does it say that the av­er­age premi­um for small busi­nesses over­all will go up. While premi­ums might go up for some, Wax­man’s re­but­tal says, they won’t over­all, and “[o]n av­er­age, the premi­um de­creases would be lar­ger than the premi­um in­crease.”

The re­port’s 65-35 con­clu­sion is based on the as­sump­tion that about 65 per­cent of busi­nesses cur­rently pay be­low-av­er­age prices, while 35 per­cent pay above av­er­age. After Obama­care, all busi­nesses will end up closer to the av­er­age.

That dis­par­ity comes from the fact that in­sur­ance com­pan­ies used to be able to charge more to com­pan­ies that em­ployed sick work­ers, and could also charge more for wo­men. That meant dis­pro­por­tion­ately high­er bills for a minor­ity of com­pan­ies.

Un­der Obama­care, however, that’s no longer al­lowed. In­sur­ance com­pan­ies can’t dis­crim­in­ate against sick people or wo­men. They can only charge more based on age, geo­graph­ic area, to­bacco use, and wheth­er the policy is for an in­di­vidu­al or fam­ily.

This change is good, Demo­crats say, be­cause it will make the mar­ket­place more fair. They also point out that the CMS re­port it­self leaves a lot of wiggle room. “There is a rather large de­gree of un­cer­tainty as­so­ci­ated with this es­tim­ate,” the re­port reads, adding that the real im­pact “could vary sig­ni­fic­antly.”

A RAND Cor­por­a­tion study, cited by the new re­port, ana­lyzed the im­pact of the en­tire health law on small busi­nesses’ av­er­age premi­ums and de­term­ined that “the ef­fect would be min­im­al.” The Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice looked at the same ques­tion and also con­cluded that the over­all im­pact would be small, ran­ging “from an in­crease of 1 per­cent to a re­duc­tion of 2 per­cent in 2016.”

Wheth­er their pre-push-back works re­mains to be seen. In the past two weeks, Demo­crats have been raked over the coals for two dif­fer­ent CBO re­ports, and had trouble chan­ging the nar­rat­ive, even when the facts were on their side.

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