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 »
‘PULLING A TRUMP’
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Source:
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
21 hours ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
×